Black Dog

October 2012. 32p. 978-0-76366-609-0. 15.99.
Gr 1-6–This tale of fear grown wild will ignite the imaginations of many children. Like a thriller, it starts with a threat: a big black dog is outside. As each family member awakens and notices it, it grows as big as a Jeffy. (Look for clues of that beast in drawings strewn about the house.) Structured with outstandingly toned tempera paintings on one side, each family member color-coded and carefully wrought sepia vignettes interspersed with text reminiscent of the work of Shaun Tan on the other, the action advances quickly into a chase. Small, the youngest of the artistic family living in a vertical-gabled red house in an eerily green snow-covered forest, sees the dog for what it is–she calls the MacGuffin a guffin–but agrees he is BIG. She could fit in one of its nostrils! Small makes him catch her if he can. She taunts him down a size and makes him squeeze into a slide, under a footbridge. The visuals go cinemascope during the chase, but resume their structure when they enter the cat flap. An ode to scale, to the portholes and bay windows of Victorian architecture, the poetry of family chatter, and steampunk elegance of antique hot-water heaters, all are here for young eyes to luxuriate in and imagine that they are courageous Small with their family’s love shining down like rainbows. Fear, fun, and just dripping with beauty, this title will pair perfectly with Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Walls (HarperCollins, 2003).–Sara Lissa Paulson, American Sign Language and English Lower School, New York City
A tall pink house stands in a snowy forest; outside is a big black dog. One by one the members of the Hope family see it and cower, and with every sighting the dog grows in size and fearsomeness until it is larger than the house itself. Finally it falls to the family’s youngest member, little Small, to address the problem. The diminutive girl meets the by-now enormous dog head-on and coaxes it to friendly, regular-sized compliance through bravery and a song. In most spreads, small sepia panels illuminate the action on one page with a bright, full-color, full-page drawing opposite. The Hopes’ house is a hodgepodge of homey detail, rendered with exquisite texture and cluttered composition, where readers will enjoy searching among the dolls and decorations for repeating characters and parallel stories. The traditional feel of the cumulative telling and the art’s surreal precision and fanciful decay combine to offer a curious metaphorical consideration of what it means to be afraid and what it takes to conquer those fears. thom barthelmess

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing