________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 8 . . . . December 10, 2004


A Very Unusual Dog.

Dorothy Joan Harris. Illustrated by Kim LaFave.
Markham, ON: North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada, 2004.
32 pp., cloth, $19.99.
ISBN 0-439-98977-9.

Subject Headings:
Imaginary companions-Juvenile fiction.

Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.

Review by Alison Mews.

**** /4


At Grandma's Elizabeth said, "Jonathan's being silly. He thinks he has a dog. It has to go everywhere with him."

"Oh," said Grandma. "What kind of dog?"

"He's got long ears and a soft coat," said Jonathan. "His name's Dog."

"He's not a real dog, you know," said Elizabeth.

"Well...he sounds like a spaniel," said Grandma. She looked in her desk drawer and took out a photograph. It showed a dog with long ears sitting with a big fluffy cat. "Does he look like this?" she asked.

Jonathan studied the photo. "Yes, that's what he looks like," he said.

internal artIn this warm and supportive family story, Jonathan's insistence he has an imaginary pet is initially ridiculed by his older sister and disregarded by his mother. As Jonathan adapts his activities around his invisible "Dog," his sister grows accustomed to its presence and declares that dogs aren't allowed on the couch, that it will get dog hairs on his sweater, and that it will smell in the car. But Grandma's immediate and complete acceptance of the dog strikes a resounding chord with Jonathan. He discovers that she once had a beloved pet but her current apartment building does not permit animals. Believing her need greater than his, he makes the magnanimous gesture of leaving his "unusual dog" behind so that Grandma won't be lonely. Harris has created a cheerful little boy whose relationship with his sister rings true and who relates to his world with independence and sensitivity.

     Using yellows, golds and earthy tones, LaFave has infused his illustrations with warmth. His style has evolved from his former oil and acrylic painting, and he now combines his sketches with digital colour. The resulting pictures are unmistakably his, with their characteristic faces and minimalist features that are nonetheless very expressive. He portrays a close-knit family where love is evident in the way the father carries his sleeping son to bed and how Jonathan snuggles close to Grandma when examining a photo. This unconditional love allows Jonathan the freedom to express himself in unorthodox ways, but more importantly, to respond empathically to his Grandma's situation.

     Short-listed for the 2004 Governor General's Literary Award for illustration, this picture book will find a ready audience with imaginative children everywhere.

Highly Recommended.

Alison Mews is the librarian of the Curriculum Materials Centre at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, NL.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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