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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
by Mary Casanova, illustrated by Ard Hoyt
Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux,(March 2007)
George had a good life.
When the woman read the newspaper, George had a place to rest his weary head.
When the man chopped wood, George studied a thousand scents on the wind.
And when they went fishing, George, who couldn't swim, rode in the middle, steady and still.
"You're some dog," said the woman.
"Some dog!" said the man.
But the day another dog arrived, everything changed.
--Some Dog!, by Mary Casanova, illustrated by Ard Hoyt, p. 1-5
When your peaceful home and routine are upset by a newcomer, how do you deal with it? In Some Dog! George looks on forlornly when a new dog, Zippity, arrives in the household, doing things he can't—until a crisis occurs, and George is the one to save the day. Once George gets praise from his owners again, he regains his sense of place and contentment, and gets along well with the new dog, Zippity.
This book subtly addresses many issues--change (which so many of us have a problem with, at least at first), jealousy or feeling like someone else is getting more attention, adapting to a new sibling, discovering that there's enough love in the one who loves you to share with others, and feeling good about who you are (or not trying to change to be like someone else).
Casanova (One-Dog Canoe) skillfully shows us how life was for George before the new dog arrived--how secure he felt, how at ease, comfortable—and this increases our compassion for George, and our understanding of how hard it is, when the new dog enters the household. Casanova clearly trusts the reader; her text shows us, rather than tells us, how George feels, allowing the reader to figure some things out for themselves. (For instance, the text doesn't say "George felt secure." It says, "And when they went fishing, George, who couldn't swim, rode in the middle, steady and still.") And we are not told directly how upset George is with the new dog's arrival, or how he feels like he's losing his place--instead, we hear his dog wail, we see the new dog being praised instead of George and doing things George can't or doesn't want to do, and we empathize with George. This is a well written story.
There is a nice rhythm and repetition of phrases that are used to show us why George's life is good, and what he does each day; the things Zippity, the new dog, does for his humans that are so different than what George does; and Zippity's frantic actions. The repetition of what George does each day is also used as bookends at the beginning and end of the story to emphasize how secure George is, and it works well. The very doggy things George likes to do—lie on his human, study the scents in the wind, lie around, and as much as possible be with his humans—is enjoyable to read, and a subtle reminder that we, too, can enjoy those things, and not take life at such a hectic pace.
There is a sprinkling of onomatopoeia throughout that evokes senses or memory (such as "boom-a-crack-clang!" for the thunder during the storm, and "Wa-roo-roo-roo-roo!" for George's mournful cries). It's not overdone. There's also a good sense of tension in the story that builds at the climax where Zippity is lost in the storm. It's moving (and good writing) when George, the focus of the story, is the one to save the day, using his unique skills (his good sense of smell) to find the missing new dog. The praise and love he then receives is all the more powerful because it appeared that he didn't receive that for a while, and it helps us understand why he regains his sense of place and worthiness. However, I would have preferred a bit of a stronger connection between that and why George suddenly gets on so well with Zippity, why he no longer feels jealous or like he's lost his place; it felt a little too fast or easy to me. I would also have liked a slightly stronger emotional ending—for me, the text on the last page didn't feel as moving as the image did, though it still works.
Dog owners may chuckle knowingly at the older dog's happy lazing and his wanting to be around his humans, and the small dog's hyped up energy and barking.
Hoyt's (When the Cows Got Loose, I'm a Manatee) gentle pencil-and-watercolor illustrations are somewhat reminiscent of Steven Kellogg's work (The Mysterious Tadpole). Hoyt's expressive illustrations show happy, kind looking people; use light washes of color and areas of white throughout; and have fluid, easy lines, allowing the pencil to show through—and these things add to the gentle, loving feeling of the illustrations. When George is happy, it's easy to see that through his contented face, eyes, smile, and tongue; everything about him looks happy. There's a nice movement between close-ups of George and his family, and further pulled-back perspectives where we see more of what's going on in a scene. There are a few places where splashes of bright red stand out so much in the illustrations that they are all you see at first (the helmets, the background); I would have liked that more toned down to fit with the rest of the lighter palette.
Many of the illustrations bleed right to the edges of the page or spread, while others are smaller, with gentle edges and white space around them, one or more per page. When George is searching for Zippity in the storm, one of the spreads has four smaller images divided on the page like a comic book, showing George's actions, and this makes that bleak section lighter.
The bleakness of the storm and of Zippity being lost is emphasized through the limited palette of dull greys, blues, greens, and highlights of yellow lightning (which contrasts with the earlier color), moving into limited additional color when George finds Zippity and begins to pull him out, and back into full color and sunlight when Zippity is saved. This also reinforces and adds to the emotion in the text.
Hoyt uses lines, like in comic books, to show fast movement and leaping, and feel-good attention and affection, and this adds to the playfulness and innocence of the art. The illustrations of happy, content George, George getting praise, and George sleeping happily with Zippity in the end are especially moving, and greatly add to the text, enhancing the effect. The illustrations are warm, friendly, and tender.
This book is a reminder that we all have a place in this world, that it's good to be who we are, that we can be loved for who we are, and that we don't have to try to be like others to get love—we can be ourselves. It also reminds us that people have expanding room in their hearts for others, that love can enfold many, and that we each have unique talents. An enjoyable book. Recommended!
-Added February 2007
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