Last fall, picture book author Amy Hest introduced readers to Charley. Charley is a small, furry puppy and the star of Charley’s First Night, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. It’s a story which captured—from the point-of-view of a young boy—both the joys and apprehensions of having a new pet and anticipating how it will acclimate to a new home. A gentle story with an authentic voice, it was matched by Oxenbury’s satiny, soft-focus artwork, each illustration framed in restrained borders.
It was a class act, this book.
Which is why I am happy to see that Charley’s back in a follow-up to his first adventure. Next week, Candlewick Press will release When Charley Met Grampa, which opens with Henry, Charley’s young owner, penning a letter to his grandfather, who will soon visit:
We got a dog. His name is Charley. He sleeps in my room. He’s a fast runner, like me, and he’s got the same last name as me. Korn.
But there’s an element of anxiety introduced on the following spread: Grampa responds and notes in his letter that he’s “never been friends with a dog before. I’ll do my best, but no promises.”
Clearly, Grampa doesn’t mince words.
What follows is a story of acceptance, but what Hest once again does so well in this follow-up—which she’s made a career of doing in the many picture books she’s penned—is capture the small details to which young children attend, the ones that most adults often overlook. For one, Henry notes that when Charley’s tail is up in the air, once he’s outside and joyously romping in the snow, that is code for “I know the way to the station.” Henry also describes his grandfather to Charley, as they wait (and wait some more) at the train station, noting that “Grampa’s the tallest Korn with the longest feet and he snores wild.” It’s these childlike, but never saccharine, details that bring Henry’s world to such vivid life.
Hest also conveys with seeming ease the flow and rhythm of children’s talk and play. (“Charley is crazy for trains, just like me, and waiting for trains, just like me, and I put my arm around Charley and we started to wait.”)
I asked Amy in a brief chat if she remembers her own childhood vividly. “I do,” she responded. “I like going back in time; I like remembering moments, people, how it felt to be me at that moment. I'm certain that's why I write children's books!”
But there are other reasons she’s drawn to writing picture books. “I guess,” she told me, “when it comes right down to it, picture books represent to me everything that is right in the world. A seamless mix of words and pictures, a timeless story, and someone cozy reading out loud, slowly turning the pages, children engaged, anticipating...then what happens...then what happens...then what happens?!”
Once again, the pencil and watercolor illustrations delight in this follow-up. “I was very, very extremely thrilled when I found out the magnificent Helen Oxenbury agreed to illustrate not only one, but two books about Charley,” Hest said. Each cozy picture adds layer upon layer to this story of familial love, whether between human and human or human and canine.
Fall is upon us, which means winter is right around the bend, and Charley’s two stories are fitting and entertaining wintertime reads, lovely picture book offerings for reading with young children, perhaps with warm cocoas in hand.
And, fortunately, Amy has an idea for another Charley book. “But at this point,” she adds, “it's just an idea. Hopefully, it will bloom into a good idea.”
If not, I’m very good with the two stories we already have.
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.