Pastis is without doubt the funniest cartoonist currently writing for the daily papers. His "Pearls Before Swine" strip, with its principal characters Pig, Rat, Goat, Zebra, and the idiotic, strangely-accented Crockydiles, has been a huge success, probably the funniest comic strip since the much-missed "Calvin and Hobbes".
Can he translate his talent into a more extended piece of prose?
I'm not sure. The first thing about this book is; who is it for? There is nothing on the cover or inside to indicate whether it is a children's book or an adult book. I suspect it's an attempt at a catch-all. On the surface, the story is simple enough for children to understand, but Pastis leaves a lot unsaid, which might only be picked up on by readers much older than those who would read it for the story itself. Also, many of the chapter titles are references to popular culture; song lyrics and titles, some of which are over thirty years old; oblique references to other strips, such as "Peanuts" and "Calvin and Hobbes"; old movie titles, etc. There's no point doing that if your readers are eight years old.
Maybe it's for "grown-ups" to read to younger children? That's a possibility, but if so, I think Pastis has slightly misjudged it - children who could comfortably follow this story, let alone pick up on some of the nuances, would probably be too old to have bedtime stories read to them.
There are illustrations on most pages throughout the book, similar in style to, but simpler than, the "Pearls" strips, and these were amusing enough, and hinted that it could be for kids, but again some of them also contained elements which children may not appreciate, or even notice.
None of that stopped me from enjoying the book. The boy's relationship with his polar bear seems very similar to the Calvin/Hobbes dynamic, although, on the surface at least, we are led to believe the bear is actually real, as we are never told otherwise.
It only took an hour to read, and there were a few laugh-out-loud moments, even for a grumpy old cynic like me. There are a few deliberately gaping holes or missed opportunities in the plot, probably to make sure readers (particularly children) realise that they are brighter than the "hero".
Overall, it's not as funny as the "Pearls" strips, but a worthwhile read. I would hope it's a one-off, because I think so much of the humour would only work once. The concept would get tired very quickly, and I don't really think the "hero" deserves revisiting.