Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Woof-tastic Facts And Features

No one can pinpoint the exact origin but its use can be traced back over two thousand years ago.  It is a lunar calendar based upon a cycle of twelve years.  Each of the twelve years is named for an animal.  One commonly held myth is there was a race.  The first twelve animals to finish became a part of this calendar forever.  The order of their completion of the competition makes for an interesting story.

The Chinese zodiac, this lunar calendar, is today an important part of the Chinese culture.  This year on February 16, 2018 the Chinese New Year celebrating the Year of the Dog begins.  For all my canine companions, past and present, this is an occasion for rejoicing. There is no better way to do so, than by reading the captivating Dogs: From Predator to Protector (Science Comics series) (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, October 31, 2017) written and illustrated by Andy Hirsch.

In a few moments, you will meet a dog named Rudy, a scraggly, friendly little guy with four legs who loves balls and his human, who excels at meeting new dogs and people, and who, interestingly enough, dabbles in time travel.

Through Rudy's commentary we humans will come to develop a greater understanding of dogs' natures.  Rudy starts at the dog park, one of his most favorite places on the planet.  Surrounded by all kinds of breeds and mixes of breeds, he dives into a discourse on classification taxonomy acquainting us with the trickiness it can involve when it comes to dogs.  With pure pup persistence he presents comprehensive explanations of genetic inheritance (DNA, chromosomes, alleles) digging into Mendel's Law of Segregation, Law of Dominance, and the Law of Independent Assortment.

Next Rudy takes us into the realm of Charles Darwin's natural selection.  Evolution is described as being a trait most likely to cause a species to survive which is passed to the next generation and the next and the next.  It has to do with how dogs look and how they act.  Did you know there was a trait to be less frightened of humans or friendlier toward humans?  There was actually a scientist, Dmitry Belyaev, who quietly studied this trait attempting to speed up domestication by experimenting with silver foxes.  It worked!

Rudy sustains our fascination by delving into genetic diversity and the impact of environmental conditions.  He talks about dogs' eyes.  The length of their snout is a huge influence on perspective.  Have you ever wondered why dogs favor yellow tennis balls, Rudy tells you the truth.  Dogs' hearing and sense of taste are off the charts but they shine the brightest with their noses.  Did you know a dog can detect the odor of a fart in an airship hanger?

Dogs understand when we point.  They perceive moods and mirror them.  They learn to perform jobs like guardians of flocks or herds or sled dogs.  They are selectively bred for physical characteristics which leads into a discussion of purebred canines.  Not one to leave a topic without a thorough representation Rudy speaks about personality traits and genetic groups.  We are able to understand how nature and nurture go paw in paw.

As Rudy has been chasing through time to retrieve his yellow tennis ball, we soon find ourselves back in the present day.  Barking and tail wagging are a dog's way of talking to us, if we would only look and listen like their other pooch pals.  And in the event they can't pick up a scent, these intelligent beings can use landmarks.  Hey Rudy!  I see you've found your human again.  Fetch!

The amount of information Andy Hirsch imparts to readers through Rudy is astonishing.  There is a natural progression from one point to the next just like a dog who is searching for an end goal.  This is a brilliant approach by Andy Hirsch.  Rudy's narrative ranges from that of an engaging professor to a best friend who whispers best kept secrets.  Here are some passages.

Alleles can even be codominant, meaning both traits are expressed.  Your genes are a big, messy mix of all sorts of allelic interactions!

The process of evolution is often slow, sometimes weird, and undeniably awesome
It can turn toes into hooves . . .
pinholes into eyes . . .
and predators into playmates.

We dogs are extremely athletic.  Real jocks.  Maybe you don't think of us that way because---
---we don't run the quickest quarter mile . . .
. . . but we've got stamina!
Once we start racking up . . .
. . . we can't be beat!  In fact, for anything over ten miles on land, dogs are maybe
the fastest animal in the world!

But dogs drool from their mouths, not their noses!  What good are smell molecules there?
. . . Wanna hear a secret?
Dogs have a second way to perceive smells:  the vomeronasal organ!
This rests on a small bone between the nose and the roof of the mouth, and li'l ducts help captured molecules find their way here.

Can you see the faint outline of DNA on the background of the opened front of the book case?  This hints of facts to be covered within the book.  It also supplies a placeholder for text.  Rudy jumping for his beloved tennis ball announces its importance as he travels through time.  All those happy pups ready to join in a game of fetch frame Rudy wonderfully.  To the left, on the back, a faint outline of an interior image of howling dogs on a rooftop during a full moon provides the canvas for material you might find on the flaps of a dust jacket.  Pure white covers the opening and closing endpapers.  A short biography of Andy Hirsch is seen beneath a happy-go-lucky-tail-wagging Rudy on the final page.

On the two page span for the title text a row of dogs look eagerly at the reader.  Rudy is among them, paw lifted and ready to speak.  When you think of the size and placement of the panels drawn by Andy Hirsch one word comes to mind, energy.  The perspective in each frame changes in keeping with the pacing of the text.

Hirsch may frame his images with fine black lines, have elements stray past the borders and place pictures overlapping other pictures.  Explanatory, colorful diagrams help to visualize Rudy's words.  Text is placed along framed images or appears in speech balloons.  You can't help but turn the pages as fast as possible to discover what Rudy will reveal next.  And you will find yourself smiling and laughing repeatedly.

Dogs: From Predator to Protector (Science Comics series) written and illustrated by Andy Hirsch is a stellar addition to an outstanding series.  Readers may read through this in one sitting or read portions of it at a time.  One thing is certain.  They will be reading it repeatedly.  They will also be sharing their newfound knowledge to any available listening ear . . . even if it's their canine companion who will probably understand every single word.  At the close of the book a glossary and further reading (books, journals, web) pages are included.  Rudy also has a few words to tell us about dog adoption and giving dogs loads of love.

To learn more about Andy Hirsch, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the publisher's website you can view eight interior pages.  Andy Hirsch is interviewed at Live Science about this title.  Please enjoy the video of Andy Hirsch at Comics Alternative.

If you would like to make a display of books about dogs for the Chinese New Year this video explains the value of the Chinese zodiac.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the selections this week by other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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