I’ve seen quite a handful of new picture books lately starring dogs, such as Maria Gianferrari’s Hello Goodbye Dog, a spirited tribute to therapy dogs and classroom-reader dogs, illustrated by Patrice Barton, as well as Found Dogs, a sunny counting book for very young children from Erica Sirotich where shelter dogs are united with new family members. Those are but two examples of recent titles. There is nothing remarkable about seeing a lot of dog books; puppies are a mainstay of children’s literature, especially in picture books.
But here’s a more under-the-radar picture book, coming to shelves next week, that I wouldn’t want you to miss, Eva Lindström’s My Dog Mouse, originally published in New Zealand in 2015.
“I love Mouse,” says a young girl on the first page of the book, and we know from the title that Mouse is a canine. The girl secures permission to take Mouse for a walk, but we learn she is “always allowed.” The girl loves the dog and takes great joy in his company. She describes how she speaks to him; how he behaves; how he walks; how she interacts with him; and so on. She even enjoys counting his teeth when he yawns. No worries: He’s too kind to bite, she says. She’s clearly taken with this gentle creature and his unique personality traits.
There are no major plot developments here, save a strong wind blowing where the girl tightly grips the dog’s leash, proving just how determinedly she is looking out for him and his well-being. The book is a simple tribute to a stroll with a beloved dog. Lindström’s paintings are uncluttered, unfussy, and direct, filled with earth colors – mostly the greens of the world they see on their walk. There’s a kind of child-like naïveté to her artistic style, which I think will be appealing to young readers.
I suppose I assumed, as I first read the book, that this could be her family’s dog. After all, some children ask permission of their parents to take the family pet on a stroll. I was wrong. In one spread towards the end, we read:
The dog’s owner even asks if the walk went well. The girls answers yes, and with sadness she watches Mouse walk back into his own home.
“I wish Mouse was mine” are the last words in the book on the final spread, as we see the girl walk away alone. This is followed by one last illustration of Mouse, peeking out the window to watch her.
It’s a striking and touching ending – all the more moving for its lack of excessive sentimentality. Children long for many things, and many of them yearn for the companionship of a pet for the simple reasons the girl lays out in the book. She loves his company, and he brings her happiness.
Lindström does nothing to complicate this bond, never mussing up the story with information we don’t need or with emotions that impose upon the reader. It’s an impressive feat, this restraint that allows room for the reader to take in the girl’s longing and perhaps even sympathize with her. An overzealous author, editor, or even art director might have tried to gussy up such a bittersweet, matter-of-fact ending, but I like it just as it is. It’s a genuine bond the girl has with this animal.
Sweet and unassuming, this one will be a particular treat for dog-lovers.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
MY DOG MOUSE. Text and illustrations © Eva Lindström 2016. English language edition © Gecko Press Ltd 2017. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.