CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 41. . . .June 21, 2013
Originally published in Portugal in 2008, My Neighbor is a Dog has been recently released in an English translation by Owlkids. When a moving truck arrives outside her apartment building, a young girl is curious to know who her new neighbour might be. She is delighted to discover that it is a dog. When various animals begin moving in and taking residence in the apartment building, the girls parents are none too happy. The arrival of a dog is followed shortly thereafter by an elephant couple and then a crocodile.
Told in the first person voice of the young female protagonist, My Neighbor is a Dog provides liberal doses of humour, yet, at the same time, it delivers an important message about tolerance and racial harmony.
Upon first glance, the book might appear to be simplistic and even bland. For instance, in the text there is little explanation as to why the parents don't like the new neighbours and why the daughter does. Yet, upon reflection, it may well be that this is an acute reflection of reality—some people just don't like others who are different regardless of a lack of justification. In the illustrations, the more one looks at the heavily patterned artwork, the more details seem to appear. For example, the tattooed arms of the furniture movers are easily missed on the first reading, as are the various activities of the apartment residents. It takes skill to make things look simple, and with Isabel Minhós Martins' text and Madalena Matoso's art, this appears to be the case. This seeming simplicity adds value to the book as subsequent readings reward the audience with more information and interest.
Martins does not speak down to the obviously-young intended audience. Her text focuses on the issue of judging people negatively because they are different. Martins' word choices are also vocabulary-expanding and suggestive of respect for her readership.
Matoso's stylistic artwork features vibrant colours. The bold illustrations contain liberal reds, pinks, and blues, yet she employs only a limited color palette. She restricts the artwork to only these specified colours, plus blacks and whites and, rarely, brown. Matoso's use of the sharp edges of the geometric shapes that comprise most of the artwork is interestingly juxtaposed against the rounded shapes of the main characters. This softens the appearance of the characters in what is being presented as a harsh and intolerant world.
Throughout the book, the text is placed in different positions across the page and also appears in different sizes and colours. These things add further visual interest to what is already a visually appealing book..
There is an unexpected twist at the end of the book as the illustrator reveals that, although the protagonist and most of the apartment residents are human, the girl's parents are actually giraffes. No wonder the elephants complain that the parents always have "their noses in the air." They are literally looking down upon their neighbours!
Although My Neighbor is a Dog is a fantasy, children will be well-able to relate to the story contents because of their seemingly natural affinity with animals. The urban landscape and apartment living will also be immediately recognisable by many young readers.
Martins and Matoso have created an entertaining story with an important message about diversity, yet they present it in a manner that is neither didactic nor preachy. Young children and the adults who read the book to them will enjoy the humour of the text and the bold colour of the illustrations.
Gregory Bryan and Brittany Miller are both dog lovers and dog owners happy to have canines as neighbours. Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. Brittany Miller is a Bachelor of Education student at the University of Manitoba.
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