Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Avid readers have piles of books, stacks of books and bookshelves stuffed with books they have read or want to read.  I know I do.  Within those needing to be read are a select group of titles.  They are not the new releases I read as soon as possible.  They are those I set aside in anticipation of greatness.

There are authors' and illustrators' work I treasure.  When two of them collaborate on a book, it's like a phenomenal present.  All books are gifts but these are in a whole separate category.  God got a dog (Beach Lane Books, October 29, 2013) written by Cynthia Rylant, Newbery Medal and Honor winner, with illustrations by two-time Caldecott Honor winner, Marla Frazee is one of these cherished treasures.

God woke up

And He was groggy,
so He got a nice cup of coffee
and went to sit
under an apple tree. ...

So begins the first of sixteen poems, initially appearing in a larger collection titled God Went To Beauty School (HarperCollins).  God decides to participate in the human experience; doing what people do or dream of doing.  God's descriptions for each scenario will make you pause, ponder and sigh in pure pleasure.

He realizes, like many of us, the importance of being near a tree, seeking shelter and comfort in the size and canopy of branches overhead.  He notices the joy resulting from the simplest things.  When you paint someone's nails you get to marvel at the bones in their hands.

Being above or next to water, is not the same as floating across it in a boat.  Testing whether spaghetti is completely cooked leaves a noodle zapped on Jupiter.  A visit to the doctor produces no cure for the little skip in a heartbeat.

Jail, a bathtub, a street, an alley or boardwalk reveals God's anger, shyness and pure elation.  Wouldn't it be great to call up Mother Teresa when you're sick to ask for a visit?  God can and does.  There's a very special little boy God wrote and read a story to as a child.  Who do you think it is?

Taking a break, discovering a place of true Holiness, working at a desk all day or writing more than a couple letters to a celebrity allow us to put ourselves in those situations, seeing God's point of view.  India, elephants and the loss of everything give readers a new understanding of a Plan.  Particularly comforting is the final poem, knowing how at the end of a day, God finds warmth as many of us do.

Even after multiple readings, I go back over and over to savor the words of Cynthia Rylant.  In every poem she captures the essence of the activity bringing an element of reverence to each.  There is a childlike wonder in the observations and yes...a sense of humor too.  I like that the gender of God varies from poem to poem.  Here's the beginning and end of the poem, God wrote a book.

No, not that one.
Everybody thinks She
wrote that one,
but She didn't. ...

... She read it to the boy
at bedtime
because the boy couldn't sleep.
So God read him a book.
The boy grew up.  He became a writer.
Which one?
Not telling. 

More than a year ago this series of tweets appeared on Twitter. (Thanks to Marla Frazee for granting me permission to use them.)  These clearly convey the process used to get an illustration "just right"; to have it enhance and extend the text as well as tell a story all its own.  I had no idea this would be one of the more than sixteen pictures in this book.  I don't know about you but I can hear the sound of the television and the soft flapping of bird wings.  I can feel the warmth of true companionship.

The black and gold matching dust jacket and book case is spectacular in its simplicity.  Sprinkled in the upper left-hand corner of the back are a cluster of stars.  The opening and closing endpapers make me think of the vastness of the universe; shades of gray patterned in darker stars.

On the title page is a tiny white mug with a big "smiley" face on it beneath the words.  God is holding this in the first poem.  It appears again on the final page, the dog leaning over to take a sip.  It's details like this that elevate a book to excellence.

Each poem is accompanied by a single page illustration.  Marla Frazee has chosen to have God appear at varying ages and ethnic backgrounds, a child, wearing a yellow life vest, drifting in a swan boat, a middle-aged, apron-wearing, hair-in-a bun woman sitting at a table covered with a red and white checkered tablecloth, a vest and bandanna wearing biker guy angrily shouting in front of a jukebox or a young boy skating along a raised boardwalk.  All her portrayals of God have a faint but definite light around them.

The color palette used, the intricate lines and shading all convey a vivid sense of time and place.  As each poem is read you are drawn into the illustration as a willing observer.  All of the illustrations in this book are my favorites, each speaking to me differently as do the poems.  The one which tugs on my heart, as you can easily guess, is of God spotting the stray dog by the railroad tracks in the pouring rain.

To tell you the truth I was literally stunned after reading this the first time; more than several of the poems and pictures brought tears to my eyes.  God got a dog written by Cynthia Rylant with illustrations by Marla Frazee is, in a word, wondrous.  I love it...every single part...with all my heart.

If you wish to know more about either the author or illustrator please follow the links to their respective websites embedded in their names.  This link to the publisher's website offers readers the chance to read four of the poems.


  1. I feel the same as you -- about setting aside books by people whose work you've long loved and admired, anticipating greatness. And YES! the combination of Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee is a huge gift. The more I love a book, the harder it is for me to write about it. God got a dog is one of those. Thanks for your beautiful words, expressing so much of my own reactions -- and it was fabulous to see Marla's tweets and drawings!

  2. I have long felt we are kindred spirits Jama. Your comments deepen that belief. Somehow thank you doesn't seem enough to express how much your words mean to me, but I do thank you. I love the conversations on Twitter between authors and illustrators but when they share their works in progress, it's even better. I'm grateful Marla granted me permission to use them in this post. It means a great deal to readers to be given the inside scoop.