Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, September 3, 2020

In Dog's Time

If you have the love of a dog, you are the recipient of the purest form of love, unconditional love.  Each day spent with them is a lesson in living in the moment immersing yourself in a total sensory experience.  They raise their noses to capture every single scent.  Their eyebrows and eyes convey an emotional depth rarely seen in humans.  How is it they can wake from a deep sleep rooms away, when you open the cheese drawer in the refrigerator?  They eat with abandon and the word treat fills them with glee.  Their hugs, standing, sitting, or lying as close as possible to you, are the best hugs in the world.  Let's not forget their special sense, the ability to know when you need them the most.  My dog Xena, who I loved and lived with for fifteen years, was a master at this, but so is my sweet four-year old Mulan.

Recently I experienced the worst case of food poisoning I've ever had.  After hours of misery, suffering from the chills of a fever, I finally wrapped myself in blankets, in the heat of summer, and collapsed on the sofa. Within a few moments, Mulan wedged her body between the back of the sofa and my body, stretched out head to head, toe to paw, with me.  The comfort she provided with her presence for hours was priceless. This is dogs doing what they do best.  Nothing escapes them, regardless of their age.  They are true to their essence until their final breath.

There is no denying the attraction of dogs and children.  They connect on a level without the use of a shared spoken language.  In a new picture book release the bond between a young child and an elder dog is beautifully portrayed.  This Old Dog (Levine Querido, September 1, 2020) written by Martha Brockenbrough with pictures by Gabriel Alborozo is a tale of kindred spirits who know the real value of a life well-lived. 

As the sun fills the sky with light,
old dog wakes.
His bones are sore
but his heart is strong.

His heart and tail thump in a timeless rhythm. Each day for old dog is a good day.  His routine is unwavering.  He loves to walk but his people have altered the pace of the walks since the birth of the little girl.  He savors each second in his slower style.  They rush, rush, and rush some more.

He wanders home as best as he can.  He naps and dreams of other days, days of chasing, swimming, and a potpourri of odors.  He rises after his nap and hopes for a companion who relishes slow walks, rolls in grass, jumps in leaves, and understands the bliss of finding

a just-right rock.

He is sad thinking of this absence until for the first time bare feet walk near old dog's bed.

The next walk is epic.  An old dog and the little girl, at the same speed, stroll through the day.  There is grass to smell, a hill to roll down, and 

a just-right rock

to find.

A heart and a tail and new-walking feet thump together.  And at night two heads rest on soft beds.  Of what adventures do they dream?

It takes a keen observer of the human and canine condition to pen a book with profound insight about both.  Martha Brockenbrough is one of those authors.  Her word choices fashion specific moments in place and time.  There is a deep, eloquent depiction of the old dog's musings, and of his joy.  The repetition of the words thump-thump are a reassuring communication throughout the story. Here is another passage.

Old dog knows that word.
He finds his girl.
She stands on two strong feet.
She takes one slow step,

and then one more. 

Thump-thump, thump, thump,
all the way to him.

Oh, the unbridled joy you see and feel when looking at the front, right, of the opened dust jacket.  Two like souls, a young girl and an old dog, are enjoying the simple pleasure found in a box, flying away in their imaginations.  What will they see?  What will they do?  To the left, on the back, on a canvas of washed shades of green a loosely formed circle holds another image.  The child is standing on her feet, arms outstretched.  The old dog is seated with his paws outstretched.  Hands to paws, they hold to each other.  

On the book case a bright blue background and wide red spine match colors shown in another loosely framed circular illustration.  In this one the child sleeps in a crib with a colorful mobile of dog shapes overhead.  Next to the crib, sleeping, is the old dog.  Nearby is his blue ball.

On the opening endpapers, across both pages, is a visual depicting the pregnant parents setting up the crib.  In the doorway stands the old dog, his red leash in his mouth.  In this picture, in all the pictures, only portions of the adults are shown.  This is a book about a dog's and a toddler's point of view.  On the closing endpapers is a peaceful scene of the home in a county setting.  The trees, meadows and landscaping around the home are painted in hues of green.  Soft, pale yellow light glows in all the windows.

On the title page, the old dog is peeking into the empty crib.  

Gabriel Alborozo began his creation of the artwork for this book using pen and ink drawings.
Then he combined scans of these drawings with further sketches, and layers of watercolor.
The final artwork was then refined using a round of digital design and digital drawing to finish.

Fine lines delineating elements, supplying shading, and texture figure prominently in each illustration.  Once readers' eyes have focused on the central figures in a scene, they easily move to the added details, like family photographs, children's toys, and the red dog leash.  Gabriel Alborozo moves from large two-page pictures, to smaller vignettes, and full-page visuals to enhance and extend the narrative's pacing.  The facial expressions on the old dog and the little girl are gloriously inspirational.  To great effect several smaller illustrations show only feet or paws.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  The old dog is filled with so much happiness at something the child does to him, he jumps straight in the air with all four of his paws off the ground at the same time.  (Mulan is my first dog to do this, and you cannot see it without laughing out loud.)  Gabriel Alborozo includes the wagging tail and uplifted ears.  The old dog's eyes are closed. and he is smiling. This is exultation in motion.

You'll be reading This Old Dog written by Martha Brockenbrough with pictures by Gabriel Alborozo over and over again.  It is a tale of generational bridging, and the bond between a dog and his human child.  It uplifts aging.  It uplifts the ability of children, like dogs, to seek and find contentment in the smallest, easiest things.  Whether you read this alone, share it one-on-one, or with a group, there will be a sigh at the conclusion, every single time.  This is a huggable book. You'll want to have a copy on your personal bookshelves and as part of your professional collection.

To discover more about Martha Brockenbrough and Gabriel Alborozo, and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Martha Brockenbrough has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Gabriel Alborozo has an account on Twitter.  This book was showcased with other titles published by Levine Querido by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Martha Brockenbrough was interviewed at author Annemarie O'Brien's blog, Best Dog Books.  This title is showcased at author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  You can get other sneak peeks at the publisher's website.  I know you'll enjoy this video as much as I do.

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