Quote of the Month

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

Saturday, December 5, 2015

For The Love Of A Dog #4

Once you have bonded with your canine companion, you become the definition of two hearts beating as one.  You learn to read each other's intentions, moods and patterns.  A wise vet told me a happy dog is a tired dog, so Xena and I spent hours outdoors.  We ran or walked from four to five miles per day along the lake shores, down country roads and through the woods, no matter the season or the weather.

During those excursions as I watched her I became more aware of my surroundings in a sensory way; acutely aware of sounds and smells and not relying strictly on sight.  You are able to let your mind wander on little or large things.  At the end of the day or during quiet times of reading or writing, your dog brings a peaceful presence into the room; a muse for many.

Shortly after she was four Xena had her first seizure.  I had finished working in my study in the loft.  I was a couple of stairs ahead of her as we descended.  She started to falter and tumbled.  I caught her before she fell any further but after that episode, she never followed me there again.  Before Wi-Fi, when I still worked upstairs, she would get as close to me as she could, waiting for me next to the bottom step.  Knowing she was there kept me centered.

Through social media I have found I am not alone in having a furry friend who supplies artistic support and inspiration.  A Lucky Author Has A Dog (Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., September 29, 2015) written by Mary Lyn Ray with illustrations by Steven Henry portrays the special connection between an author and her dog over the course of several days.  Everyone has stories to tell. Prepare to find your story.

Early in the morning, people are waking and going to work.

A dog is ready to go to work too.  First their author needs to wake up and get dressed.  After breakfast the best part for the dog is their human works from home rather than leaving.  Ever attentive the dog knows when the author needs a creative push.

Authors can and do write in a variety of places, at times working feverishly or stalling when searching for the correct thought.  Wondering how to further assist the dog stays near, available for action and watching every movement.  As the pile of discarded ideas grows, this is a clear signal for the dog.  It's time to get outdoors for a walk.

As a team, sometimes one searching in one direction while the other looks in the opposite, they seek stories.  They close their walk in dinner time companionship.  As night turns into day, something feels out of the ordinary to the dog.  What's this?  The author is leaving.

It's Author Day at the local school.  The author speaks to the students.  They pepper her with questions and she cheerfully responds encouraging them to become authors.  Guess who's waiting for the author at home, leash at the ready, looking out the window?  Both are very fortunate because...

Mary Lyn Ray begins this story with her dedication:

For all the dogs who,
of themselves, make us lucky

As she recounts their time together, she does so using an easy, conversational voice.  She alternates between why she is lucky and the dog is lucky revealing how an author seeks a story and how it grows.  During her author visit dialog makes the event relevant and real for the readers.  Here is a sample passage.

After lunch there's time for book signing.

A first grader warns, "You shouldn't do that.
You'll get sent to the principal for writing in books."

A third grader asks, "Why do you always write
about dogs?"

Created in Corel Painter 12 (The final illustrations were based on original pencil sketches.) by Steven Henry these cheerful images begin with the matching front dust jacket and book case.  The dog, head cocked, is looking directly at the reader among the evidence of an author hard at work.  The wagging tail shows an eagerness to supply what is needed at the moment.  On the back, to the left, an interior image and two sentences are placed on a background of white.

The opening and closing endpapers are the same shade as the brown in the dog's collar.  On the title page beneath the same text in red, the author is sound asleep with her dog tucked around her body on the bed.  The verso and dedication pages' text is enclosed in a two-page picture of a New York City street and its citizens going about their morning.

For the majority of the pictures Henry's background is white (on thicker matte finished paper).  He may spread his illustrations across two pages, on a single page or group them in fours on two pages to supply pacing.  At one point urgency is generated by five smaller illustrations together over two pages.

There is softness in his pictures but an obvious energy.  His people are fully engaged in life; perhaps mirroring the ardor of the author's dog.  Readers will want to pause and absorb all the details; a mother in a stopped car giving her child a teething ring, someone new moving in next door to the author's apartment as the dog looks out the window, and all the authors at work have animal company even if it's a stuffed one.  Careful readers will notice the presence of the girl wearing the polka-dotted boots several times in the narrative.  And watch the blue balloon at the end.

One of my favorite pictures is of the author taking a break by walking her dog in the afternoon.  Steven Henry's design and layout is impeccable.  The perspective shifts from left to right drawing our attention to the dog gleefully running down the street.  Who's walking who?  I think I can hear panting and barking.

Not only are we introduced to the practices of an author but we are made aware of the importance of a dog in this author's life.  In A Lucky Author Has A Dog written by Mary Lyn Ray with illustrations by Steven Henry we are welcomed into a wonderful world full of perseverance and exploration.  This title has much to offer for those who know the importance of a canine's place in their lives, for those wondering how the daily life of an author truly is and for those about to have an author visit their school.   Readers are lucky to have this author and her dog.

To learn more about Mary Lyn Ray and Steven Henry and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Steven Henry visits author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

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