Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Common Ground

It seems as though in the circle of life those at the beginning and those at the end embrace everything around them with a similar energy and outlook.  When beings are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching something for the first time it's charged with emotion.  Unless the circumstances are threatening, it's usually with a sense of wonder.  As our days become numbered, even if those somethings have been seen, heard, smelled, tasted and touched before or perhaps many times, they become sharper, clearer and more meaningful.

The very young and the very old know how to live in the moment.  In Old Dog Baby Baby (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, October 11, 2016) written by Julie Fogliano with art by Chris Raschka we are gifted with a portrait of this shared experience.  It is a love letter to seeking joy.

old dog
lying on the
kitchen floor

One look at an old dog and you know they have the wisdom of their ages in their faces.  They know when to sleep and when not to sleep.  Watching them rest in ease grants the viewer a feeling of peace.  Comfort caresses them and youthful dreams envelope them.

Although their body posture may not initially acknowledge it, if their space is shared with another, they will be fully aware.  When a baby comes creeping along the kitchen floor, a happy exclamation pushing aside the curtain of quiet, the old dog lifts up her head and looks.  Canine sniffs and canine kisses supply a greeting received with glee.

The two, baby and old dog, play with abandon, touching and clutching, pushing and pulling.  Both are grinning.  It's a best buddies' romp.

As you may expect at their respective ages, it is not long before a change takes place.  The once dynamic duo is done.  Look.  Where there was one, now there are two.  Listen.  Can you hear it?  This is a moment for everyone; a bit of the divine.

 Simple but enlightened words written by Julie Fogliano convey the essence of an old dog, a baby and their happy meeting.  Surely she is a student having studied the behavior of babies and old dogs.  Their mannerisms and behaviors are adeptly defined.  Words are repeated for emphasis and pacing.  Words rhyme to create a lively and sweet beat.  Here are two passages.

old dog dreams
old dog twitches
old paw scratches
old ear itches

baby fingers
baby toes
"puppy! puppy!"
baby goes

When Chris Raschka paints we see life in every brush stroke.  Every line is with intention and purpose.  Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case, the baby and dog are stretched perfectly over the spine to the left on the back.  The affection they have for each other is evident in the child's smile and in the dog's patience.  The basic color palette of red, green, blue, yellow and white of the title text and the child with the white, black and gray of the dog conveys the gentleness and playfulness of the narrative.  A burnt orange covers the opening and closing endpapers.

On the title page the baby is leaning over a green chair, finger touching the old dog's nose as it sits on the other side.  Raschka begins his interpretation of the narrative with a two-page picture on the verso and dedication page.  A child is seated at the kitchen table looking at a photograph album with the old dog sleeping on the floor.

All of the images span two pages with the exception of seven single-page pictures.  All supply us with varying perspectives.  With a page turn we zoom in on the girl and old dog as a woman stops to speak with her.  We get a glimpse of another woman via a single foot and red shoe in the upper, right-hand corner.  With a second page turn we are very close to the dog, now beneath the table.

When the girl leaves we can see she has been viewing pictures of the dog as a puppy. As the baby crawls through the door, our view is larger showing the kitchen counter, an appliance and another table.  On this table is a family photograph, two women, two children and the dog, and a potted flower. It's this dedication to detail and design which makes these illustrations remarkable.

One of my many favorite images is of the old dog and baby rolling on the floor.  Raschka has chosen to only show us the upper portion of their bodies.  On the left, upper section of the visual the dog is positioned with his head upside down, ears flapped to the sides and tongue hanging out, paws pushing.  The baby is on the right toward the bottom.  Arms are wide open, eyes are closed and a huge grin is on the child's face.  You can almost hear the giggles and soft woofs.

Old Dog Baby Baby written by Julie Fogliano with art by Chris Raschka is the best of both worlds, baby and old dog with the heart of a puppy.  The warmth of a happy home in which joy can be freely expressed is evident on each page.  I've lost count of how many times I've read this book.  You'll lose count too.  It's a book to be shared often.

To view two interior pages please follow this link to the publisher's website.  Julie Fogliano maintains a page on Facebook.  Chris Raschka can be found on Twitter.  Julie is interviewed at the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation site.  Lydie Raschka, Chris's wife, talks about his artistic life at The Horn Book.  Chris Raschka is interviewed at Reading Rockets in a series of videos.