The incredible success of this French children's series is, as much as anything, due to its insistence on sticking to the basics: Sex, Death and Money. Here, the focus is on Death. The kids' beloved dog Pluche runs out into the road, and before Barbara can get to him he's been hit by a passing car.
We get the usual workmanlike treatment of the theme, starting with the four main grieving stages. Lili and Max come home, and their first reaction is of course Denial. ("Noooo! He can't be... he just looks like he's asleep!") This rapidly turns into Anger ("I'll kill that driver! Shit Mom, didn't you get his number?!"). I thought the author was just a little cavalier about skipping past Depression, but the series is very upbeat and I guess she wanted to focus as much as possible on Acceptance.
The kids start off next day by comparing their experiences with those of their classmates. Another girl has lost a dog, and there's someone who's still mourning their guinea-pig. Bitchy Valentine's uncle died recently "but it's no big deal, I didn't like him much". One shy child confesses, apparently for the first time, that his mom is dead.
"Your MOM?!!!" says tender-hearted Lili, rapidly getting her own loss into perspective. "Oh," says the bereaved classmate, "it could be worse. I've got a new one now." I would have liked to have heard more about this story, but they're already preparing Pluche's funeral. The whole class joins in, and it turns into a real extravaganza: Max writes an unexpectedly sensitive poem, while other kids collect dead birds and insects to keep him company. ("Like an Egyptian pharaoh", one of them explains). The mutt gets a great send-off, with most of the neighbourhood dogs turning up to pay their respects.
That evening, Lili and her brother exchange stories about the departed. "He taught me so many things!" muses Lili. "How to be happy and playful and enjoy life!"
"Yeah," says her more prosaic brother. "Like, how to fuck!" (He actually uses a slightly politer expression). Suddenly, the kids have a lightbulb moment. Given Pluche's active interest in sex, maybe there are puppies somewhere? They have to find out NOW!
They go off and interrogate other people on the block, and eventually strike gold. "Sure, I remember him," groans the dog-owner. "Always hanging round our bitch."
"Did he love her?" asks Lili delicately.
"Dunno about that," says the owner. "But you couldn't chase him away, that's for sure. Wouldn't be surprised if he was the father!"
The kids are beside themselves with joy, but desolated to hear that all the pups have been put down. "Except one," says the guy. "I just couldn't do it, so I gave him to the rescue."
They grab Mom and Dad, and hightail it to the SPA kennel. Alas, Pluche's presumed offspring has already found a home. But there's another pup there who's quite amazingly cute, and they charm the reluctant parents into adopting him.
In the final scene, the kids are snuggled up in bed with their pets. One of them has the cat, who's hating having his territory invaded, while the other one's got the new dog.
"Where do you think Pluche is now?" asks Max.
"He's our gardien-ange-chien
!" says Lili, and you can indeed see an angelic bewinged version of Pluche in her thought-bubble - a guard(ian)-dog-angel. One of the best books in this fine series!