If you missed it last year—it would have been hard to, if you follow children’s literature closely, given the handful of starred reviews the book received—Albert Whitman & Company released here in the States Lulu and the Duck in the Park. First published in the UK in 2011, it is one in a series of chapter books about a lovable young girl, named Lulu. “Lulu was famous for animals” is the book’s first sentence, a succinct and zippy-fast way of capturing her personality and her heart’s biggest desire.
The books are written by the talented Hilary McKay, who also lives in the UK, and thankfully, Whitman is releasing the books here, across the big, immense ocean, so that we American readers can share these well-crafted chapter books with our own children. They will release Book 2 (or at least the second book here in the States) in early March. Lulu and the Dog from the Sea is just as good as the first.
Though the first book was focused on Lulu’s adventures with a duck’s egg she smuggles from a park (in order to save the poor creature), this second tale is about a dog. “Lulu was famous for animals,” remember. This is her thing, her big passion—much like Daisy Dawson can talk with animals, Clementine has a talent for trouble and impulsivity, and Nate the Great lives to sleuth.
Lulu is 7 years old, and so is her cousin and best friend, Mellie, who appears in both books. In this second book, they set off with Lulu’s family on a sea-side adventure; it’s a family vacation at a cottage, complete with a disgruntled cottage owner (who put the sand in her shoes?) and a local, stray dog with “ears like brown paper bags.” If you guess that Lulu falls for the misunderstood canine (though he does cause quite a bit of trouble), you’d be exactly right.
McKay populates these books with well-rounded characters, humor and plenty of well-paced tension. (Proving his worth to the heretofore unconvinced grown-ups, the scrappy stray saves both Lulu and Mellie after a nasty fall, during which Mellie sprains her ankle.) There are six chapters here, filled with the black-and-white spot illustrations of Priscilla Lamont, which unassumingly convey the myriad of emotions of these young girls and the enthusiastic dog.
An added bonus of these engaging chapter books? Children of color will see a protagonist whose skin is not white. Those children who have just secured their own confidence in reading fluently often want to see in chapter books characters who reflect their own selves and families. The problem is that it’s still more work than it should be to find chapter-book protagonists who aren’t white. And, when you do see them, often the story wrapped around them is one of struggle.
To be absolutely sure, we need to know about the struggles of minorities. We need to read about the atrocities of the past and present and precisely how, when, where and why oppressors do what they do. But we also need more stories about children of color (I assume Lulu is black, though I suppose she could be, say, of mixed racial heritage) who live happy, relatively “normal” lives. (Given that “normal” is too complicated to define, I encase it in quotes, but you get my drift, I hope.)
And it goes without saying that such books with children of color need to be read by all children—Latino, Caucasian, Asian, Indian, etc. These books need to be within reach at bookstores and libraries, though it’s still a challenge to find them.
Enter Lulu and her satisfying stories, full of warmth and an authentic charm. Her stories are a welcome import—and a pleasing addition to America’s chapter book canon.
LULU AND THE DOG FROM THE SEA. Copyright © 2011 by Hilary McKay. Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Priscilla Lamont. Published in 2013 by Albert Whitman & Company. Illustration used with permission of the publisher.
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.