Dog Tales

by Jennifer Rae

illustrated by Rose Cowles

published by Whitecap Books

1998, 32 pages

Dirty Dog Boogie

written and Illustrated by Loris Lesynski

published by Annick Press

1999, 32 pages







A Happy Dog's Life

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


Dogs and kids are a winning combination. There's something about the eternally happy aspect of the canine that children find irresistible. Add the almost mystic quality that a good illustrator brings, and you're on your way to magic as far as the average five-to-seven-year-old is concerned. Both Dirty Dog Boogie and Dog Tales are rich with the kind of illustrations that make kids smile.

Of course, though we all know a picture is worth a thousand words, good illustrations without a strong story or central theme are just so much vanilla pudding: fun for a while, but hardly the sort of thing that can satisfy a real appetite. Both books are strong in the theme department, as well: though in very different ways.

Dog Tales written by Jennifer Rae with illustrations by Rose Cowles is a happy and satirical look at fairy tales likely to be familiar to your child. Cindersmelly, for example, is a pretty fun take on the classic Cinderella, though there are no stepsisters in sight here:

Cindersmelly lived with a pair of persnickety Siamese cats who spent all day grooming and cleaning themselves but who never lifted a claw around the house. Cindersmelly was made to do all the work -- fetching newspapers, carrying stinky slippers, cleaning dirty dishes, even sweeping the floor with her big, black tail. So not only was she smelly -- she was dusty as well.

Sound familiar? And well it should, with just enough differences to invite gales of laughter from your favorite young reader. For instance, it's the Prince's Pet Show our dear Cindersmelly is too dusty and smelly to go to. Though, fortunately for Cindersmelly a vacuum cleaner salesman named Harry Dogslobber appears just in time to save the day and clean Cindersmelly into a semblance of a canine who can go to the Pet Show. And when she arrives: "What a beautiful shiny black coat! I should like to have such a big, black dog as that!" And, well... you know the rest: with variations.

Rose Cowles' drawings are appropriately happy and aberrant for the subject at hand. They're big and bold and colorful and deep enough to invite intense contemplation. For example, the princely title beast in The Doberman's New Clothes looks sufficiently self-involved to get duped as he does. And Little Red Riding Hound is a very sweet-appearing Dachshund-type creature who looks adorable with her little basket and red cloak.

All in all, it's an enjoyable journey through territory that feels at once entirely familiar and totally new.

Also fun, but entirely different in theme and tone is Loris Lesynski's latest Dirty Dog Boogie. In fact, there is little about dogs in Dirty Dog Boogie besides the cover and the title. In fact, it isn't dogs that Dirty Dog Boogie celebrates: it's poems. As Lesynski writes in her (very brief) forward:

Read them all alone
read them all aloud.

Read them to your Mumsy
or recite them to a crowd.

Change the words,
arrange the words,
or rearrange the beat.

Know a poem?
Show it off
to everyone you meet.

To the under-seven set to whom poem and rhyme are practically synonymous, Lesynski's poems are pure music. When it comes to rhyming stuff, Lesynski is a major goddess. The only thing more joyous than her rhymes are her charming and well drawn illustrations.

Sock Fluff, one of the 28 original poems in the book, is classic because it indicates how well this author thinks about the things kids are concerned with:

Down in the corners of most of my toes,
clumping together in bunches and rows,
right out of sight where it seldom shows
--that's where I keep my sock fluff.

Blue socks make blue fluff
and red socks make red.
Striped socks make some of
each colour instead.
These stay in at night when I fall into bed
-- red yellow blue bits of sock fluff.

And so on through a couple more stanzas. This is, after all, the stuff kids think about: things that are close and understandable and within the realm of their own universe. | March 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of Death Was in the Picture.