Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The Best Gift Ever

More than twenty-three years ago, a chocolate Labrador puppy was born.  As the smallest dog in her litter, a powerful name was given to her by her human.  She was called Xena.  For fifteen years, she was a constant companion to a woman who had endured pain and was starting a new normal.  The duo wandered, walked and ran in all kinds of weather.  They shared adventures firmly stored in the human's mind and heart.  

After Xena's death, fifteen blog posts beginning on December 2, 2015 and ending on December 21, 2015 were written.  In those posts conversations about our shared experiences lead to honoring a specific book focusing on a dog or dogs.  Today I have the distinct pleasure of again paying tribute to the enrichment dogs bring to our lives.  

Every action they take is based on the use of their enhanced senses, any training they may have, and a deep desire to give unconditional love.  The collaboration of author Maria Gianferrari and illustrator Ishaa Lobo gives readers a title filled with the return of that love.  To Dogs, with Love: A Love Letter to the Dogs Who Help Us (Roaring Brook Press, December 5, 2023) speaks truth in lyrical words and in lovingly-fashioned and researched artwork.

Dear Dogs,
Thank you for your tails
that whip and thump and pump,
Even when they're stubby---
They bring joy.

Each of eight passages begins with thanking dogs for one of their notable characteristics.  Their ears never miss a sound.  It's as if they understand every word we utter.  With their eyes, they see us and what we cannot see.

As our hands stroke their fur, regardless of its length or texture, peace wraps around us. Their paws provide perspective in every step and stance.  When we least expect it, dogs' tongues are the best kind of kisses.  Kisses we need.

The phrase "the nose knows" is an authentic description of dogs' ability to sniff out anything good or bad in our surroundings, even our emotions.  When a dog's head finds its way next to your head as you sleep, it is the best gift ever.  An unbreakable bond, a lasting connection, is formed.

As the letter comes to a close, we thank them for all the actions they take every day to join us in our lives.  They know when to give joy or soak up sadness.  They bring calm as we drift off to sleep in their presence.  We are filled with gratitude.

With every word author Maria Gianferrari writes we are aware of her gift as a wordsmith and of her fondness for all things dog.  As she describes each physical attribute, we know she has witnessed and enjoyed the benefits of every aspect of a dog.  Her use of rhyme and alliteration create a musical flow throughout this entire ode to our canine companions.  Here is another passage.

Thank you for your fur,
Or short,
Or curly---
Fuzzy for nuzzling,
Gifting comfort.

On either side of the spine on the dust jacket, illustrator Ishaa Lobo has drawn a cozy setting within the same room as indicated by the walls.  She features a child nestled within the curve of a dog's body, each canine offering exactly what the child needs.  Shown in the eyes of the children and dogs in each image, you know they have formed an attachment.  On the book case (the surprise as some of my younger students call it), a different illustration is shown.  It is a stunning interior picture spanning from the left edge to the right edge.

On the opening and closing endpapers, ten dogs are displayed in a variety of poses.  We can see that some of them are wearing their therapy vests.  On the title page and verso, dogs are cuddling with their dedicated humans and with a child reader resting on the floor.  

These illustrations, rendered digitally with a tablet pencil, evoke a genuine warmth in the color palette, perspective, settings, and realistic details.  For each physical attribute Ishaa Lobo decides which picture size best conveys a pictorial message.  She varies the sizes between two-page illustrations, full-page visuals, and smaller vignettes.  She sometimes chooses to bring us very close to a dog's paws, their head, or their connection to a human.

As you turn the pages of this book, you are aware of every line, every texture, and every setting.  They work to create a window into the humans' lives changed by the presence of a dog.  Outside a small cottage in a meadow is a table holding a vase, several journals and a pencil.  Next to the table is a child in a wheelchair.  A dog wearing a wheeled-harness rests its paws on their lap.  Both move with wheels.  There is an instant understanding between them and between us as readers.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the one featured on the book case.  It is a wordless double-page interior picture.  From left to right, we see five dogs and the tail of a sixth.  They are all walking on leashes with their humans heading to the right.  They are eager and focused.  All we see of the humans are portions of their legs and feet.

I can already hear the gasps and sighs of readers, when they view To Dogs, with Love: A Love Letter to the Dogs Who Help Us written by Maria Gianferrari with artwork by Ishaa Lobo.  At the close of the book two pages are devoted to A Note on Therapy Dogs.  This is followed by two more pages informing us about the variety of therapy dogs and available resources.  I already know I will need multiple copies of this inspiring title.

To learn more about Maria Gianferrari and Ishaa Lobo and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Maria Gianferrari has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Ishaa Lobo has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.   There is an interview at Maria Marshall's website of these creators relative to their work and this book.  At the publisher's website, you can view several pages of interior illustrations.

For Maria Gianferrari, dog love is the most pawsitive medicine of all!  To Dogs, with Love is Maria's seventh book featuring beloved canine characters, following Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness, Operation Rescue Dog, Hello Goodbye Dog, Officer Katz and Houndini, and the Penny & Jelly series.

Ishaa Lobo is (a) Children's Book Illustrator living in London.  She is the illustrator of The Mystery of the Love List by Sarah Glenn Marsh; To Dogs, with Love by Maria Gianferrari; and There Always Room for One More by Robyn McGrath.  Her next book, Bigfoot's Big Heart, written by Sarah Glenn Marsh, will be released next year.  In her spare time she likes to visit galleries, go to the cinema, and go on walks.  See her work at

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