Your heart races, your breathing speeds up and your eyes get as big as saucers. Whether real or imagined, those are signs fear is present. Your body is gearing up for the classic flight or fight.
Levi Pinfold, in his second picture book, Black Dog (templar books, an imprint of Candlewick Press), in a most charming way, focuses on fear. It seems the Hope family has a huge problem...or do they?
One day, a black dog came to visit the Hope family. Mr. Hope was the first to see it.
Breakfast toast dropping to the floor Mr. Hope is shocked by what he sees out the window. In a flash he's on the phone to the local police, claiming there's a dog the size of a tiger outside his home. Laughing they tell him not to go out.
Mrs. Hope gets up shouting to anyone who will listen, there's a dog as big as an elephant near their home. Mr. Hope's solution is to hide in darkness by shutting off the lights. As each of the children rise and begin to perform their morning rituals noticing the dog, his size magnifies as do the remedies for security.
There must be something strange in the air beyond the confines of the Hope abode. That black dog grows from elephant to Tyrannosaurus rex, and finally to Big Jeffy. Big Jeffy? Lights off, check, curtains closed, check, hiding under the covers, check. The Hope family is hoping.
Small Hope, the youngest and shortest, thinks Mr. Hope, Mrs. Hope, Adeline and Maurice are being utterly ridiculous. To their horror, she bundles up, resolutely walks out the door and right up to the canine creature, who truth be told, compared to her, is big. Singing a song she entices the black dog to follow along.
Her melody leads him under a bridge, over a frozen pond, down and around the playground for fun and through the cat door back home. How is that possible? Maybe a little hope is exactly what you need to face fear, to see the truth. And when you see truth it might follow you home.
Levi Pinfold's narrative is light, lively and guaranteed to have any reader smiling by the end of the first page. With great success he creates a pattern of each member awakening, dropping an item, calling for help and asking for advice slightly altering responses to fit the family member. When Small Hope confronts the black dog another rhythm is established. Each time her different two line rhymes are sung, the same phrase follows. In fact Pinfold uses it as his final line. Perfection.
"You can't follow where I go,
unless you shrink, or don't you know?"
A luxurious, metallic, silvery winterscape with the Hope family home and Small Hope outside spreads across the jacket with three tiny sepia-toned insets on the back. Unlike the jacket the cover is a version of the snowy woods empty of life, but close inspection shows a nearly invisible trail of paw prints. The front endpapers are a replica of the jacket including the title page and verso. A mirror image of the cover decorates the closing endpapers.
Using tempera paint on paper, some self-prepared, other premixed, Levi Pinfold's illustrations are magical. He brings readers into a world of rumpled domestic bliss, slightly old fashioned, a little eccentric. Each of the two page spreads, until Small gazes up at the black dog, showcase a detailed full color visual on the right. On the left six specifically-shaped, brown-hued exquisite miniature pictures frame the text on the top and bottom, reflecting the action.
Four lush, colorful illustrations span two pages as Small Hope faces the black dog leading him with her song around the village and surrounding woods until the two return home. Inside again the original pattern repeats until the family gathers. Readers will want to carefully examine every nook and cranny of each illustration noticing all the special touches; the childlike drawing on a kitchen cupboard labeled Jeffy, a pink elephant toy in Maurice's bedroom becomes a piece of playground equipment or the Royal typewriter sitting out in the open.
Black Dog written and illustrated by Levi Pinfold is absolutely stunning in its narrative and art. I can't imagine this not becoming a favorite to be read again and again, relished at each reading. Never has facing one's fears been so enjoyable.