Gillaspy’s (Fly Like an Eagle, 2011) first picture book is a story of loss and acceptance as experienced by a dog who lost her long, waggy tail.
Piko’s life is good, and her perks (loving humans, toys, a dachshund friend, etc.) are shown in Underkoffler’s dog’s-eye-view illustrations rather than told. But despite all this doggy goodness, Piko is sad because she “lost” her tail as a puppy, and the other dogs call her ugly. Deciding to seek her tail so she “can be happy and beautiful,” she asks Bee for help. Bee directs her to Owl, and Owl sends Piko to Squirrel, warning that Squirrel is a trickster. Piko chases Squirrel, thinking Squirrel has stolen her tail, but she’s mistaken. Squirrel directs Piko to a mountain-dwelling creature who steals tails from other animals. After an arduous, scary journey, Piko spots the apparent thief and chases it. The bear cub—for that’s what it is—runs for its mother, who roars at Piko. Piko explains her mission, and Mama Bear laughs and tells Piko never to believe squirrels. But she also tells Piko that she’s “the bravest dog I ever met.” The bears turn to leave, and Piko notices (why didn’t she see when she was chasing the cub?) that they don’t have long, waggy tails, but short, beautiful tails that “look just like Piko [sic].” Piko returns home to her humans, feeling proud, brave, happy and beautiful, and she roars like a bear at any dog that makes fun of her. The illustrations provide a strong sense of the settings through which Piko moves, and the text styling—which has a hand-lettered look—adapts to show emphasis and, when Squirrel compares Squirrel’s tail with Piko’s, to show the various tail attributes Squirrel names. It’s too bad Piko is so focused on beauty and that her new way of dealing with teasing involves acting like a bear rather than finding a doggy solution. Nevertheless, it’s possible that this story could serve as an “Ugly Duckling” variation for children, suggesting to them that there are others who share their loss and that the answer lies not in replacing what is lost, but in finding beauty in their current states.
A mild tale of tails with important lessons about self-acceptance.