They eagerly look in her direction, quietly waiting. They know storytime today is going to be out of the ordinary. When their librarian comes to the circle and sits in her chair she is carrying something in addition to the book. In her arms is a puppy. This puppy is as excited to meet the children as they are to meet her. Over the years this librarian realizes the comfort and joy this dog brings to her students as they grow up together. The dog seems to instinctively understand on any given day what a child may need.
We see this as a gift. They see it as their job. Canines' affection for humans is unconditional and constant. Madeline Finn and the Library Dog (Peachtree Publishers, October 1, 2016) written and illustrated by Lisa Papp is the story of a reading journey. It is a story of the best kind of friendship.
I do NOT like to read!
Not even the menu on the
ice cream truck.
Reading aloud in the classroom is even more of a struggle for Madeline Finn. The words are tricky for her to comprehend and speak. When someone quietly laughs at her attempts, it's disheartening.
She gets stickers like her classmates but their stickers are stars and her stickers are hearts. Her stickers say
If only she could get a star.
Madeline Finn knows what a star means. She makes a wish on a star. She wishes to be a good reader, especially a good out-loud reader. For an entire week Madeline works and waits for her wish to come true. It does not.
On a Saturday visit to the library, Mrs. Dimple, the librarian, greets Madeline with the promise of a surprise. Madeline reminds her she does not like to read. When Madeline walks into the children's room, it is filled with dogs. Mrs. Dimple suggests she read to a rather large white dog named Bonnie.
Regardless of her stumbling with words Bonnie keeps on sitting next to Madeline and continues to watch her and listen. For many Saturdays Bonnie and Madeline sit side by side in the library. On the Saturday before her next read aloud, Bonnie and Mrs. Dimple are absent. Madeline is not sure what to do but wishes can come true with extra unexpected surprises too.
With each sentence we feel a connection to Madeline as she tells her story. She shares her innermost feelings with us. Lisa Papp's descriptions of her endeavors are realistically depicted. It's important to note there are caring, compassionate adults portrayed in the figure of Madeline's mother, her teacher and Mrs. Dimple the librarian.
As the story progresses Papp deepens our bond with Madeline as her bond grows with Bonnie through her simple sentences and word choices. We read about her confidence growing in the repetition of a single phrase. Here is another sample passage.
At first, I'm nervous.
I get the letters mixed up.
The words don't sound right.
But then I look at Bonnie, and she looks right
into my eyes. She doesn't giggle.
Rendered in pencil, watercolor, and digital coloring the illustrations, beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case, are absolutely huggable. The pale green background, the soft colors and the position of Madeline leaning against a patient Bonnie with books scattered around them add up to pure bliss. To the left on the back an interior image of Madeline and Bonnie is placed above the words:
This is Bonnie.
She's a great listener.
A soft sandy hue covers the opening and closing endpapers. Throughout the book a similar shade is used, textured almost like fabric. On the initial title page a stack of books is a seat for Madeline's ever present stuffed bunny toy. One of her heart stickers is next to the books. A frustrated Madeline, arms crossed, is standing with her bunny, books fanning out from her on the floor, on the title page and with the books crossing the gutter to the verso.
Papp varies her image sizes to provide pacing. A full page picture can bleed across the gutter where two smaller visuals appear in vertical panels. To intensify a moment the illustration may cover two pages. To depict a sadder moment the image is alone, a loose circle surrounded by more of the background color. The delicate details in all the images supply gentleness to the story.
Many of these illustrations are favorites but the series of pictures when Madeline is first reading to Bonnie are completely endearing. On the left are three framed images. First Madeline is reading with her back to Bonnie. Then she turns around and reads to her. In the third picture Madeline looks up from her book at Bonnie. On the right, in a larger illustration are just the faces of Madeline and Bonnie. Bonnie looks right at Madeline with complete trust. It is a defining moment for Madeline.
We all know readers who need to emerge from their reading cocoons. To do so in the presence of a dog (and to watch this happen) is indeed wonderful. Madeline Finn and the Library Dog written and illustrated by Lisa Papp is a charming, delightful portrayal of a truth which can and does happen. I can predict this will be a favorite of readers and listeners alike.
To learn more about Lisa Papp and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. This links to an entry about this title at the publisher's blog.
Readers might be interested in this article from the American Libraries, Dog Therapy 101. Enjoy the video below.