Nino and his imaginary dog are inseparable companions—until a tangible pet comes along.
“Nino had a dog that he didn’t have,” van de Vendel writes. A dog that chases squirrels and jumps into Nino’s great-grandma’s lap, listens to phone calls from a faraway parent, and licks up saltwater tears. The illustrations depict a rumpled-looking lad roaming through a blended setting of pine woodlands, muddy yards, and rustic interiors hung with mementoes of far-off places with a dog visible as an unfilled outline. A glance at them will quickly clue in children who might be confused by the narrative conceit. But the diaphanous dog disappears one day when another dog arrives: it’s “soft. And sweet. And obedient. And naughty. And small. And everyone can see it.” This dog is afraid of Great-Grandma and can’t listen on the phone. But it’s all good, because Nino suddenly realizes that along with the much-loved dog that he does have, he can still have one, or many, that he doesn’t—and other creatures too, from a make-believe bear to a “not-hippopotamus.” Still, even surrounded by his selectively invisible menagerie, he remains a solitary figure, and his grave, lonely expression lends a poignant undertone to closing scenes of daytime play and nighttime dreaming.
A sensitive reminder that imagination can provide comfort, though not in unlimited quantity. (Picture book. 6-8)