Aunt Reeny is a cantankerous, old biddy who values her independence and doesn’t need any help, thank you very much. Being wheelchair-bound doesn’t hold her back from her favorite activities like cooking and shopping, and while she appreciates the concept of service dogs—they are not for her. (Well, maybe she’s not all that cantankerous; throughout Dingle, The Helpful Ice Cream Cone Delivery Dog, she is shown smiling, until she and her family begin to wither from the summer heat.)
Dingle is a companion animal — a family dog with aspirations of doing more. He’s not satisfied with “pats and ‘good dog,’” and longs to be a productive member of the family. There must be some way he can prove his worth to Aunt Reeny. Dingle, who is not a service animal, wants to help, which is not surprising since so many dog breeds were “designed” to be workers. With the assistance of a friendly service dog and an engineer, Dingle is able to create an item that will aid him in his efforts, and make Aunt Reeny appreciate him.
Written with the intent of “getting the most resistant people living with disabilities to finally accept a little help that others want to extend,” Dingle, The Helpful Ice Cream Cone Delivery Dog is a book with a mission. However, it is a children’s book, or is being marketed as such, and one cannot help but wonder if the intended audience is children with disabilities or stubborn people — regardless of age — who need convincing that they really do need help. The problem is that author Audrey Kinsella leaves a lot unsaid.
Adults may immediately get the point of the story, but it is very short on words necessary to get that point across to a young child. Therein is the book’s flaw. Illustrated with colorful, friendly pictures, the book (or its author) assumes that the reader will automatically intuit what is going on without much narrative. This is not a major obstacle to the enjoyment of the book, since adult readers are often required or requested to provide “backstory” and explanations to their young audiences.
While Dingle, The Helpful Ice Cream Cone Delivery Dog is the tale of an adorable, helpful black Labrador retriever, it is also a story about accepting one’s limitations. Kinsella has suffered from multiple sclerosis, and experienced progressive disability; she is familiar with the difficulty of asking for and accepting help from others. Over the years she has learned to appreciate the help of people and animals. With her first children’s book, she shares lessons she has learned.
The reading level of Dingle, The Helpful Ice Cream Cone Delivery Dog is appropriate for beginning readers. Although dialogue is presented in “cartoon balloons,” it is also offered at the bottom of each page in large print, which is helpful for those with sight-related problems.