Quote of the Month

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

Friday, June 3, 2016

What's A Dog To Do?

By their very nature our canine companions are pack animals.  When they become a part of our families they instinctively long to be participatory members.  They want to have a job to do.  When their task is completed to the best of their ability, they wish to enjoy all the benefits of being a part of Team Dog and Human.

There can be one or usually several duties at which they excel.  Excellent Ed (Alfred A. Knopf, May 17, 2016) written by Stacy McAnulty with illustrations by Julia Sarcone-Roach is a pooch with a problem.  He's not quite sure how he fits in with the Ellis family.

All the Ellis children were excellent at something.
Except Ed.

The excellent Ellis guys and gals were able to eat at the table, ride in the van, sit on the couch and use the indoor bathroom. The five children had gifts; soccer player, math masters, ballet dancer and cupcake maker.  While Ed did his best to match their superior skills, his results were not quite the same.  Does cupcake taster count?

Ed's canine mind is whirling with ideas.  He wants to be able to eat at the table, ride in the van, sit on the couch and use the indoor bathroom.  A checklist is forming in his head.  His first possible superior skill could be breaking stuff.  That backfires when Elaine rushes into the family home with an announcement of breaking a soccer record for the season.

Two more times, Ed is sure he has discovered what he does best but the Ellis children are better as he assess their news.  It looks as though he won't be allowed a seat in the van or the cozy comfort of the couch.  At this point, Ed is feeling a little dejected.

When Ed being Ed shines in several situations, his doggy logic begins to understand why there are better places for him to be than at the table, in the van or on the couch.  With each event Ed can feel his excellence growing and his place in the family assured.  But...

Readers can readily see why Stacy McAnulty has dogs at the top of her Things I Love list on her website.  Her affection and understanding is apparent in the narrative.  When Ed is comparing his abilities to their excellence the humor begins to unfold.

Edith was an excellent soccer player.
Ed preferred to carry the ball in his mouth.

She establishes an enticing storytelling rhythm with Ed wanting to be excellent, thinking of what his excellence is and then discovering he is not quite as excellent as one of the Ellis children.  It is during these portions of the story readers are privy to wordplay through double meanings.

By having the tale told by a narrator and Ed's point of view in combination with dialogue from the Ellis family members, we are completely immersed in every moment.  Here is another sample passage.

Just then, Ernie dropped half of his peanut butter
sandwich.  Ed gobbled it up.
"Wow, Ed! You are excellent at cleaning the floor," Ernie said.
Yes, I am an excellent floor cleaner.
Maybe that's why I don't eat at the table?

My enthusiasm for the illustrations in this title begins on the matching dust jacket and book case.  The golden glow seen on the front and back of each is carried throughout the book.  There is nothing more endearing than seeing a dog on their back, eyes wide, mouth open and tail thumping in sheer happiness.  This is the essence of dog.  On the back, to the left, the Ellis family is pictured all looking down at Ed as Emily hugs him.  Ed's eyes are closed in contentment.

The brilliance of the artwork rendered in acrylic paint, watercolor, crayon and grease pencil created by Julia Sarcone-Roach continues on the opening and closing endpapers.  In the first set the Ellis family has placed a red and white, striped sweater on Ed.  In three rows, left to right, twelve small pictures altogether, we see Ed trying to get that sweater off.  His body contortions are hilarious.  This continues across the two title pages and the page opposite the first page of the story.  Ed sits triumphant and sans sweater at the beginning.  The closing endpapers feature Ed in totally canine bliss in ten different positions.  The golden yellow hues with green are predominant.

To enhance the pacing of the text Sarcone-Roach alters her image sizes.  We see a group of eight across four pages followed by several single page pictures.  As Ed discovers his excellence the perspective changes bringing us closer to the characters.

Throughout the narrative the expressions on all the Ellis family faces are full of warmth and sincere kindness.  Ed's looks as depicted by Sarcone-Roach are eager, full of fun and guaranteed to have you burst out laughing.  She captures the looks, tail wags, perky ears, woebegone body postures and true delight perfectly.

One of my two favorite illustrations is of Ed leaning over the arm of the couch watching the Ellis children seated together.  They are reading a book spread across their laps.  One of the children is holding a bowl of popcorn.  His tail is thumping in anticipation of enjoying their company and also that popcorn.  The second image I really like (there are more actually) is when Emily and Elmer walk through the door.  Ed's body is stretched toward Elmer, giving him a doggy kiss.  Both children are hugging Ed.  In each of these pictures Sarcone-Roach through her skills conveys the mood of the moment masterfully.

Dog lovers' hearts are going to fill with love every time they read Excellent Ed written by Stacy McAnulty with illustrations by Julia Sarcone-Roach.  Other readers and listeners are going to ask it to be read over and over again too because it's superb storytelling in words and images.  It's about the excellence of being exactly who you are.  This book deserves and receives four paws way up!

To learn more about Stacy McAnulty and Julia Sarcone-Roach along with their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  By following this link to the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations from the book.  Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries, John Schumacher, chats with author Stacy McAnulty at his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.


  1. I read this while at a bookstore the other day--it's very cute! And I especially love Julia Sarcone-Roach's illustrations. I'm a huge fan of The Bear Ate Your Sandwich. You can tell she's a dog lover too :)

    1. I think it's fantastic Maria. Both Stacy and Julia really "get" dogs. I am a huge fan of The Bear Ate Your Sandwich too. I had it in my Mock Caldecott last year.