Like bees to honey with their super sniffers working overtime, dogs are drawn to the most peculiar smells. Those odors most of us avoid, they run to quickly. For some, probably most, to stick their nose directly into the source of the aroma is not sufficient. They relish rolling in it to carry the fragrance on their fur.
Louie had just had a bath.
Looking and feeling less than chipper after this ordeal, Louie is frantic. His own distinctly individual bouquet has vanished; washed down the drain with the soapy bubbles. It's time for a trip.
In the garden a fox gladly points him toward a tangy treat, a boot which has seen better days. It's good but not quite good enough. Along the ground a group of snails offer another suggestion.
Sniff. Sniff. Sniff. Phew! These garbage cans might be exactly what Louie needs. A swarm of flies buzz about another pungent place. Oh yes! This is exactly what this canine craves.
One more exquisite unmistakable essence is required. What is it and where is it? Then joy fills his soul from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. He remembers where he needs to go and why. Ducks take wing but Louie is in his glory. His Special Smell is back.
No dog could have had a more pleasurable day. Every step he takes is a prance filled with pride. Back through the garden and into the house Louie parades. Yikes! What's that noise? What is that smell? Did someone call his name?
Make no mistake, Catherine Rayner knows what drives dogs to do what they do. By having a narrator tell the story as well as inserting dialogue, it makes readers feel as though they are shadowing Louie as he goes about his mission. When Louie roams the area surrounding his home, each place he visits is described in the most aromatic terms. To add to the humor, he has not only had a bath but he smells like roses and apple blossom; a direct contrast to his much loved whiffiness. Here is a sample passage.
They were overflowing with fishy leftovers,
and cabbage leaves mixed with rotten eggs.
Delicious! But it was
still not his own
Stretching across the entire book case with the words
Nobody smells quite like Louie...
over his back, readers are given a fairly accurate impression of the personality and characteristics of Louie. The opening endpapers are splashed with mud and dirty paw prints as a mouse (rat) gazes to the right, watching Louie's retreating self. The closing endpapers are awash in different colors with bubbles and blossoms in blues and pinks. Just a hint of a muddy paw print remains. Poor Louie...
Catherine Rayner's signature style continues on the title page and verso featuring swirls of brown, blue and pink. A few bubbles are floating across from one side to the other. A trail of mud ends at a bathtub with dirt up its side.
Each illustration spans both pages. Delicate washes supply the appropriate background for beautifully rendered creatures, flowers, leaves and vicinities Louie visits. Rayner's loose lines, textured layers of color and shapes invite you to reach out and touch the page. Depending on the text she may give us a broader view or zoom in on Louie's expression.
I have several favorite (Okay, all of them.) illustrations. But as a human with a canine companion the one for which I have personal experience is of Louie jumping into the Pongy Pond. The look on his face is filled with glee. The image with all the splashing and ducks scattering is hilarious and so true. A close second is the perspective of Louie when he realizes he needs to get back his Special Smell. All we see is his face with his nose pointed upward.
If you need to smile, no...laugh out loud, look no further than Smelly Louie written and illustrated by Catherine Rayner. Her words and pictures will have you cheering him along as he seeks to return to his pre-bath self. I know this will be a storytime favorite with requests to read it again when the final picture is shown and words are spoken.
To learn more about Catherine Rayner and her other books, please visit her website by following the link embedded in her name. This title appears on The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal Nominations for 2015. A recent interview of Catherine Rayner including her artistic process is found at Pen Heaven. Update: You are really going to enjoy this series of video interviews of Catherine Rayner about this title, courtesy of CILIP.