As dog owners know, the key to understanding when your pooch pal has developed an obsession is, first, they never want to be separated from said object. If it should happen to be misplaced, the mere sight of it will send them into delirious three-sixty twirls. Secondly, because they love you in their own unique way, they want to share said attachment with you; you might be throwing a Frisbee endlessly, playing hide and seek with a squeaker toy or hearing a quiet thud first thing in the morning, opening your eye and seeing a Kong waiting to be filled with a favorite snack.
For those of you unfamiliar with canine companionship, get ready for a gleeful glimpse into this particular personality trait. Ball (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) word and pictures by Mary Sullivan follows a typical day in the life of a dog with his red toy. The use of word rather than words is not a typographical error; only one word is used in this title to great effect.
The story opens in the room of a girl fast asleep in her bed. Curled up next to her is the dog, a red ball firmly lodged in his mouth as he, too, sleeps. As he slowly wakens, then sits up, tail thumping, she opens one eye to his unheard but obvious request. Yelling BALL! she gives it a mighty heave.
This exchange is repeated several times as she changes from her pajamas into her school clothes. When he silently asks her to throw it a final time, she points to the clock, leaving out the door. He is not happy about playtime being over.
Clearly shaken by this turn of events, he approaches mom doing her yoga, baby in bouncy chair, cat lying cozily and the laundry basket to see if they're up for a game of throw and fetch. Unfortunately none of them responds to his requests. Finding his way into the girl's bedroom, he hops up on the bed, tucks the ball under her pillow (even her stuffed monkey won't play) and promptly falls into a dog dream.
He goes from one doggy delight into another then into doggy dread; a swirl of red balls, a seven-layer cake decorated with...red balls, an outer space chase and the lost-ball-in-the toilet maze to name a few. A shadow falls across the bed saving him from slumbers' trauma. There's only one thing to do. A dog's internal clock never fails. BALL!
All the subtleties of a single word are portrayed in font size, the shape of a speech bubble, and in the punctuation used by Mary Sullivan. The position of the text in relation to the other elements in the illustrations cleverly conveys the emotions of the characters. In a dog's mind, this dog's mind, the total joy of one syllable is absolutely accurate.
Speaking of one word, hilarious comes to mind when looking at the front of the dust jacket. This pooch is possessed with a passion for that red ball. On the back of the dust jacket Sullivan features four different scenarios with the dog and the ball not shown in the book; each one loaded with grins. The volume's cover is literally filled with brown tone sketches of artwork; some having been used in the title. A red polka dot pattern on the opening and closing endpapers increases the overall sense of play.
Of the fifty illustrations nearly all are framed with a small white border; those without a border are strong emotional moments. This framing plus the varying sizes of the pictures gives the book the feel of a graphic novel. Outside of the dream sequences the color palette stays more limited, warm tones of those shades used. The look in the dog's eyes and the various body stances will have readers holding their sides with laughter. Every single visual, truthfully, is jam-packed with animation.
Mary Sullivan's debut as both an author and illustrator with Ball is an uproarious success. One on one or with a group, this has winner written all over it. It would be such fun to give the dog his own special voice reflecting all his emotional states throughout the day.
A link to Mary Sullivan's official website is embedded in her name above. Here are two of a series of videos, an interview about her work and Ball.