Some children’s books
by other authors

recommended by Kellie Strøm

START - CAT STORIES - DOG STORIES
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Dog Stories

Here’s where they have their day. Despite differences in appearance, these hairy dogs all have the same pedigree, by author Margaret Wise Brown and artist Garth Williams. Yes, others have created fine dog books too, but these are my favourites, despite the low number of aircraft contained within these pages.

Mister Dog, Sailor Dog, and The Friendly Book.

Mister DogMargaret Wise Brown is of course best known for Goodnight Moon, at least one copy of which is in the library of every literary baby. Goodnight Moon is brilliant in taking a standard situation and finding in it a deep imaginative resonance, but Margaret Wise Brown is responsible for many more great picture books, most of them much less well known in Europe than in America.

In Mister Dog she creates a simple yet surreal situation, a dog who belongs to himself, and again creates a rich fantasy with a few simple words. Her words create a shifting rhythm without becoming forced or monotonous as some lesser rhyming picturebooks are. She includes peculiar details which give the book a truthfulness that many hugs-and-cuddles animal books lack.

Garth Williams’ first work in children’s books was illustrating Stuart Little in 1945, so he started at the top. According to Leonard S. Marcus in the introduction to the Golden Books Garth Williams Treasury, he met and became friends with Margaret Wise Brown soon thereafter. In their projects together he varied his style from tight paintings to loose line and wash.

Unlike Richard Scarry, his contemporary at Little Golden Books, whose style started at one end of the spectrum, and then slowly evolved to finish years later at the other, Garth Williams moved back and forth between techniques from one book to the next, taking his cue from the spirit of the text.

His art for Mister Dog is in his fully painted style, though much looser than the meticulous Home for a Bunny. Mister Dog is truly furry, the rooms and landscapes draw you in, and all the characters in the pictures move with a spring in their step. The remarkable thing is how tangible everything seems, despite the loose rendering. Or is it because of it? It’s rare to see art like this which combines a sense of three-dimensionality with real living energy.

The Sailor DogThe Sailor Dog is quite a contrast, drawn in loose pen line and watercolour. This book is from 1953, the year after the painterly Mister Dog, but seven years before the even more illusionistic Home for a Bunny. The looseness in Sailor Dog carries through to his treatment of details - where they’re fun to include he happily draws all the rigging and navigation lights and so forth, but feels under no obligation to include them on a following page where the ship can be stripped to its essentials, a sketchy outline, but the drawing is still absolutely effective at conveying the atmosphere of the story.

Also in Sailor Dog you’ll find a marvellous drawing of a passenger plane held together with string and old wire, with a roof rack for luggage, and an exhaust pipe even more unbelievable than Sadie’s. As for the control tower behind the plane, it’s indescribable!

The Friendly BookThe Friendly Book is not exclusively about dogs, but they do make up the majority of its population, despite the pages about bugs, fish and people. These drawings, again black pen line with watercolour, are even freer than the ones in The Sailor Dog. They express complete pleasure in drawing. In ways they remind me of Philip Guston’s late work. I’m off now to stare at those pages some more, to try and learn how to stop worrying about every detail, and just love drawing.

A few links: the official Margaret Wise Brown site, the amateur but information-rich site Margaret Wise Brown Web Resource, and from The New Yorker, Goodnight Mush, Elizabeth Kolbert reviews some of the picture books of 2006, ending with the sixtieth anniversary edition of Goodnight Moon, which she describes as ‘more restrained, more exacting, and more lyrical than anything written for children today. In its own quiet way, it is also more brutal.’ Read why.

O, and before I move on, Wait til the Moon is Full, also by those two, is a masterpiece. No dogs there though.

kellie

Next: more Golden Books,
and then more Sea Stories.





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Written September 2007