Quote of the Month

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

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dog Gone Smart

I can't help myself.  Whenever I'm browsing around in any one of my favorite local bookstores, I am always on the lookout for books featuring dogs; not just for myself, although I am an over-the-top dog lover, but because my students enjoy them nearly as much as I do.  And I do maintain a magazine on Scoop.it, Gone To The Dogs, gathering in those gems for children and young adults that showcase our canine companions.  While on any given day it would be pretty cool, no totally awesome, to know, understand and talk with one's dog, wondering what they might be thinking about their human counterparts, it's not as if we consider they might view us in the same league as Einstein.

On a recent venture a cheerful book cover, splashes of red front and center, snagged my interest, My Dog Thinks I'm a Genius by Harriet Ziefert with paintings by Barroux.  Exuberant endpapers highlight the cover dog running hither and yon from one puddle of paint to another mixing and matching as colorful footprints outline his route; perhaps a prelude of events to come.  A turn of the page has the title extending across two pages in bright red, hand-lettering by a boy wearing paint splattered pants, palette in one hand, a brush in the other, as his dog looks on.

When I was five, I said,
"I'm an artist.
I need to paint
and draw every day."

Three years later he still paints as Louie, his dog, watches and helps.  One morning he paints a large, gray vertical rectangle, adds five windows and a door with a handle, some bushes and leaves a section of white space at the bottom.  Louie barks a loud, "No!" when asked if the painting is done.

He decides that Louie wants to be included.  Running in circles, tail wagging and many dog kisses later, the boy knew he'd guessed right after adding his version of Louie to the picture.  Taped to the wall, his latest creation is titled My Dog Thinks I'm A Genius.

Leaving for school the boy looks back to see Louie gazing forlornly out the window as aloneness sets in.  Later arriving home he finds that Louie is not in his usual spot.  No siree...and he has not been pursuing his normal pastimes.

For the next four pages readers are given the inside scoop on Louie's activities during the day; his passion for painting prevails.  The boy is not at all happy with the pandemonium stricken state of his studio.  Jumping, barking Louie leads him to another section where he and we readers gaze in amazement at the double-page marvelous masterpiece.  The boy lovingly acknowledges Louie's talents in the naming of his artwork.

It never fails to intrigue me how children can say so much with so few words; stating the obvious succinctly and quickly.  Zierfert's first person narrative flows exactly like conversations that swirl around me everyday.  While her sentences are concise we are left with no doubt about the boy's desire to paint, the bond between he and Louie and how much Louie's tastes parallel his even as Louie's talents exceed those of the boy.

Shades of golden yellow, rosy red, sky blue and lime/fern green among a profusion of rich radiant orange convey a sense of happiness throughout this story.  Barroux's wide brush strokes coupled with the finely detailed features of the boy's face, artistic paraphernalia around his paint space or in the leaves scattered on the ground bring readers right into the book.  His Louie is adorable; two little dots for eyes, long nose and body postures full of feeling.

Humor is "waiting in the wings" to burst forth when Louie releases his inner artist.  Barroux's interpretation of the boy looking for Louie and saying:

"Louie, if you messed with my paints, you're going to the yard for a time-out!"

is so perfect that I laugh out loud every time I see it.  Whether Barroux has a canine friend or not, he sure can capture the essence of dog.

Of note is the sheer, pure quality of bookmanship employed in the making of this title.  No eBook, in my opinion, can produce the tactile pleasure of thick white pages full of vibrant illustrations highlighting the innocent pursuit of both boy and dog doing what they love.  My Dog Thinks I'm A Genius by Harriet Ziefert with paintings by Barroux is a defining representation of a children's picture book.

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