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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Good Boy, Fergus!
Good Boy, Fergus!
by David Shannon
Blue Sky Press/Scholastic,(March 2006)
Good morning, Fergus!
Want to go out?
Ready . . . Set . . .
Okay, Fergie, time to go in. Come here, Ferg. C'mon boy. FERGUS, COME! Here Fergie, Fergie, Fergie! FERGUS MACLAGGAN! YOU COME HERE RIGHT NOW! Please, Ferg. Come on. Let's go, boy! That's it.
--Good Boy, Fergus! by David Shannon, p. 1-7.
Fergus, a West Highland terrier, is clearly adored by his owner, the narrator. Fergus, however, has a mind of his own, and often doesn't want to do what his owner wants him to do. His owner cajoles him, instructs him, berates him, but mostly indulges him, praising Fergus even when he hasn't done as he was asked (which is almost always). The reader follows Fergus as he goes outside, chases a cat, gets a belly rub, gets into "trouble" by digging up a plant, and much more. This book is absolutely hilarious, especially for anyone who has a dog. It may also be familiar to some parents, as well. Both children and adults should find the humor enjoyable.
Shannon's (Alice The Fairy, No, David!) conversational text consists solely of the narrator speaking to his dog. On some pages it's brief, even down to one word, and on other pages there are a few short sentences (on one page, many), but it always moves swiftly, full of a wry humor.
Shannon takes us throughout a day with Fergus and the (mostly unseen) narrator. This is not a traditionally written story; it consists of loosely linked scenes that exist only through one-sided verbal dialogue and illustrations (showing Fergus' dialogue through his body language and actions). Yet it has a clear beginning and ending, a few crisis points, tension between the characters, and strong unique characters. Shannon's text allows the reader to discover what's really happening themselves through the interplay between the text and illustrations, and this makes the book all the stronger. The text opens with Fergus waking up, and ends with Fergus going to sleep, and this helps bring the book to a satisfying close.
The tone of the owner/narrator is clear through his dialogue, moving from coaxing to commanding to pleading to losing his temper to encouraging to praising to making much of Fergus, always responding to what Fergus is doing or not doing. The reader responds to both the narrator and Fergus, as the reader sees both, and this makes the story enjoyable. Dog owners and parents will recognize that cutsy way some of us talk to our dogs (or babies) that pops up here and there in the text, making much of Fergus just because he scratches an itch, or appears around the doorway. The text has an endearing quality, as it's obvious the narrator greatly loves his dog, and frequently tells Fergus that he's a good boy.
Good Boy, Fergus is the perfect partnership between text and illustration, where both work to build on each other, to increase the humor, and to tell the story through their interplay, and where both would not work on their own.
Shannon's mixed-media illustrations (which appear to be pencil and acrylic) are vibrant, happy, and full of energy. The happy, light feeling is increased through the often happy, excited body language of Fergus; the smiles on Fergus' face; brightly colored backgrounds; a great use of yellow throughout the illustrations (like sunlight); and the frequent use of white (in Fergus himself, in the white space in many of the illustrations, in highlights, in clothing, and more).
The illustrations are alive, bright, and full of life, and are fluidly drawn and expressive. Fergus is an appealing character, happy, energetic, winsome, and cute, and funny through what he chooses to do or not do. He is made all the more funny by his owner's reactions to his behavior. Dog owners will recognize many of the doggy acts and expressions that Fergus displays, including begging for human food by intense hopeful staring and one paw on his owner's lap. At times Fergus is shown in action through a leg being drawn twice, depicting movement.
The narrator/owner is mostly unseen (his face never fully appears, and usually the reader sees just his hand, arm, lap, etc.) and this works exceptionally well, allowing great reader identification, as well as keeping the visual focus on Fergus, and the relationship between Fergus and the dialogue.
The illustrations vary in layout per spread, and this helps bring some variation and freshness to the layout. The story seems to begin on the cover, where Fergus is seen lying on a comfy armchair with his monkey toy. It then continues in a bonus illustration in the front matter, where a happy Fergus is chewing on his monkey toy amid great white space, and then is chasing pigeons on the inside title page in a full spread.
Shannon's illustrations are aesthetically pleasing, with varied hues adding depth and shading; the use of rich, vibrant colors; and most illustrations using layers and daubs of color that blend or contrast with each other. Shannon visually repeats some colors and shades throughout the book, visually pulling all the illustrations together, such as white (in Fergus, clothing, highlights, etc), red and orange (in Fergus' collar, the pads on Fergus' feet, the walls, the ground, etc.), and yellow (in backgrounds, in floors and walls, in flowers, etc.) Colors are also echoed within each illustration, such as white found in one illustration in Fergus' fur, his dog tag, the flowers, the background, yellow found in the flowerpot, and more faintly in Fergus' face, fur, and paws, and the ground.
There are many layers of humor in this book. There is the humor in the text itself, in the way the owner gives in to Fergus; in the contrast between the text and the illustrations; and in the illustrations and some of the things Fergus does and gets away with. The greatest humor comes through the contrast between what the owner/narrator says, and what Fergus actually does, and the oh-so-familiar trying to get the dog to do something through various methods, and then praising Fergus in the end. This humor runs throughout the book. For example, the owner/narrator asks and tells Fergus to come in, but Fergus doesn't. Then the owner tells Fergus that he's doing it right and that he's a good boy--even though we see through the illustrations that the owner is actually carrying Fergus to make him come in. Another example of great humor, shown both through the illustrations and the text, is how Fergus gets his point across and gets what he wants from his owner through his actions--such as when his owner feeds him dinner. Fergus clearly doesn't want just his plain-old dog food, and turns his back on his dish, not eating until his owner sprays it with cream whip--and then he gobbles it down.
There is also humor in the illustrations by themselves, such as Fergus obviously having tipped over a flower pot, flowers strewn all over, a beautiful flower arranged in his mouth, Fergus looking up innocently and with a 'what-did-i-do-wrong?' look, mud smeared on his mouth and paws; and in Fergus going for a ride in the car after a bath, his fur streaming back in the wind, and then afterward his hair sticking out all around his face.
Fergus appears in ten of David Shannon's books, but you have to look closely.
This is a hugely funny, sweet, enjoyable book. Highly recommended!
-Added June 11, 2007
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