Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

For Love Of A Dog #12

More than a year ago we were shown a huge park with a paved walkway around the perimeter.  No matter which direction you look mountains frame your view.  In the center is a huge expanse of grass.  During the evenings and on the weekends it is filled with people playing soccer games and enjoying picnics under the many pavilions.  On one side a community of prairie dogs has set up residence.  In another portion of the park, outside the walkway, is a designated, fenced area specifically for dogs to be off-leash.

As she got older Xena's sense of smell increased.  She could not get in enough sniffs when exploring.  Her nose was constantly either in the air or to the ground.  Our walks took longer, not because of her arthritis but because of her taking in all the scents.  This new expansive recreational arena was heaven to her.  If she would have been making the decisions our strolls would not have been shorter but longer.  She did not want to leave this wooferlicious place.

I wish she could have seen what else I have noticed in this city.  They love dogs!  Dogs not only accompany their humans in stores particular to pets but I have seen them in departments stores, big box stores, and when I was getting my car title a couple of weeks ago, the assistant said they are frequently brought in the county building.  They are on leashes walking beside their humans or taking in the sights as a passenger in a shopping cart.

Xena and I were nearly inseparable.  If totaling the days we were apart during the fifteen years shared together, you would not surpass two weeks.  In her newest title, author illustrator, Maira Kalman (Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything) shares her passion for dogs.  Beloved Dog (Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, October 27, 2015) showcases the appearance of dogs throughout her many works of art.

When I go out for a WALK, there is so much I see that makes me happy to be ALIVE. 

This is the first sentence in this book.  It begins a poetic, philosophical interlude to the pleasure found in walking.  It speaks about the vast array of people encountered.  It enumerates the lost items left by humans on purpose or perhaps by accident.  It speaks about trees and the other flora and fauna living among them.  Most of all it talks about the narrator's love of dogs.

Their roles in humans' lives, phrase by phrase, page by page, are affectionately documented.  This author illustrator notes how they seem to find a place in all her work, whether they are the focus of the tale or not.  She then goes back to her childhood telling us it was not always this way.

Her grandmother had a deep fear of dogs.  She also needed everything to be neat and tidy at all times in their home, a shack on the river in Belarus.  These beliefs were continued by Maira's mother in their apartment in the Bronx.  Although Maira started to see all people did not share their truths about dogs.

When in college, Maira fell in love with a man, Tibor.  When taken to meet his parents she was understandably terrified by their rather large dog, Boganch.  Tibor and Maira married and had two children.  Within all the ups and downs of family life one thing was definitely clear---

...we all loved each other madly.

When Tibor became gravely ill, it was suggested to Maira to get a dog.  Her mind revolted at the idea but life (and her thoughts) had other plans for her. Pete, an Irish Wheaten, became a part of their family.  Pete and Maira became fast friends.  He was everything and more for her..for them.  First Tibor, then eight years later, Pete left them.  This book chronicles in images from 1986 to the present the significant place dogs have in Maira's world.

With a few words or carefully penned sentences Maira Kalman gets to the essence of all things dog and their invaluable presence in her and our lives.  Her observations are intensely accurate and beautifully spoken.  Her closing page, a collection of nine sentences and phrases, will wrap around your heart like a blanket of truth.  Here is an earlier passage.

He did what everyone said he would do. Help to keep us as sane and as happy as we could be. Quite an extraordinary achievement, but nothing special for a dog.

When opening the dust jacket you see an image rendered in three colors.  Pete looks at us as he must have looked at Maira Kalman so many times.  On the back, to the left, a photograph of Maira and Pete is featured.  On the book case, in a matte-finished tan background, three large words appear in all capitals and in white


On the left a small Woof! is centered.  The book flaps are covered in the names of more than eighty dogs...all beloved.  The opening and closing endpapers, different, joyfully celebrate dogs, and dogs and their humans.

The illustrations all rendered in Maira Kalman's signature style are striking beyond description.  The use of light and shading with every brush stroke will have you pausing at each picture.  They are witty, whimsical and extraordinarily moving.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is of a child placed on a grassy lawn with tiny pink flowers growing through the grass.  The child is seated on the ground with one arm down on a journal, a pencil in their hand.  The other arm is around a dog as an elbow rests on the chair next to them.  The dog is sitting alert, looking directly at us.  The child's eyes are closed.  This painting represents a pose taken by humans and their dogs many times every single day.  They sit patiently as we wrap ourselves around them, sighing in the pleasure of their presence.

Beloved Dog written and illustrated by Maira Kalman is a glorious gift, an expression of gratitude in words and pictures to one very special dog and to the many others who have come and gone and will continue to occupy our existences.  Adult and child readers will enjoy finding familiar pages from books they have read and those they are seeing for the first time.  This book is a treasure for dog lovers.  It shows others exquisitely how great their importance is.

To learn more about Maira Kalman and her other books please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  This title is highlighted at BrainPickings, Beloved Dog: Maira Kalman's Illustrated Love Letter to Our Canine Companions.  HuffPost Arts & Culture chats with Maira Kalman, Maira Kalman Talks New Book, 'Beloved Dog'.  Maira Kalman is interviewed at Publishers Weekly, BEA 2015: Maira Kalman: Homage to Pete, The Bark, The Artful Life of Maira Kalman, and at The New Yorker, Maira Kalman's Beloved Dogs.  I think you will enjoy watching the video below about this book.  Here is the link to another video at BigThink where she shares her philosophy about work and life.  This radio interview at It's Raining Cats and Dogs makes for great listening.


  1. Love love love this book! I bought more copies of this book for holiday gifts this year than any other. Thanks for this glorious review. Your words here wrap around the heart with warmth, caring, and razor sharp insight. :)

    1. Me too, Jama! I can't believe how well she articulates in words and pictures the impact of dogs in our lives. I was stunned by her perceptions. You are most welcome for the review. You know how I feel about your blog posts. They are so lovely and lively. Thank you for visiting.