Frankie Bryant just wants to figure out what to wear for their band concert. Neither a suit nor a dress feels quite right to the nonbinary middle schooler. They’ve been through a lot since coming out, including being abandoned by their best friend, Dallas, who makes a show of using the right pronouns in front of adults but snickers about Frankie behind their back. Otherwise, Frankie’s life is fairly normal . . . until they save a golden retriever from bullies and are transported to a giant magical doghouse, where they are given a funny-looking helmet that allows them to talk to a group of superhero dogs called the Pawtheon.
In The Dog Knight, Frankie must prove that they possess the dog virtues—loyalty, kindness, honesty, justice, stubbornness and smell—over the course of six trials. Then they will be named the titular Dog Knight and assume a legendary role alongside the Pawtheon to protect the world from agents of chaos. The golden retriever, Platinum, believes Frankie can do it—but can they believe in themself?
Author Jeremy Whitley (creator of the Glyph Award-winning Princeless series) crafts a heartwarming and funny tale about being true to yourself and fighting for what’s right. His world building is adorable, thoughtful and highly entertaining, including the lore of how humans and dogs came to have a pact. The redemption of Frankie’s ex-best friend is messy and lengthy, and therefore realistic. The story arc wraps up nicely but has enough loose ends to leave readers wanting more from the planned series.
Illustrations by Bre Indigo (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Graphic Retelling of Little Women) absolutely shine. Both humans and dogs have diverse character designs and dynamic expressions that will be sure to satiate hungry Raina Telgemeier fans. Their use of sound effects alternates between helpful onomatopoeias (such as Frankie’s drums making “tk tk tk tk” sounds) and humorous action indicators (such as the words “pet pet” appearing when Frankie pets one of the super pups). Colors by Melissa Capriglione (Basil and Oregano) are vibrant, with backgrounds that shift colors with characters’ moods and gutters that add to the tone—black during eerie night scenes and bright blue during an ethereal dog lore flashback, for example.
While this isn’t necessarily a story about being nonbinary, Frankie’s gender identity is essential to the narrative; for example, being truthful about how much Dallas hurt them passes the honesty trial, and finding the perfect outfit clears the smell trial. Too few children’s books feature genderqueer protagonists, and fewer still feature nonbinary protagonists in the type of heroic roles that their cisgender peers have played for decades. The Dog Knight is an excellent addition to a necessary and growing canon and will fit in nicely among Molly Knox Ostertag’s The Witch Boy series or ND Stevenson’s Lumberjanes series.