Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

9780763660970_p0_v1_s114x166Lynn:  Fear is a huge issue in the lives of children and it is a frequent subject of picture books.  Levi Pinfold’s approach to the subject is highly original yet imbues a sense of classic timelessness that is as reassuring as it is engaging.  Black Dog (Candlewick/Templar 2012) is a book that was high on our to-read lists last year but it wasn’t until we went to ALA and went to watch the Notables Committee do it’s hard work that we saw it on the table as one of their considerations.   That brief read fueled our determination to spend more time with it and since then Candlewick has kindly sent us a copy.  It was worth the wait!

One day Mr. Hope gets up to find that a large black dog came to visit the family.  “My goodness,” he cried and called the police to tell them that a black dog the size of a tiger was outside.  The policeman laughs and as each member of the household gets up, the black dog inflates till it is the size of a Big Jeffy.  Only the youngest smallest member of the family isn’t afraid so out she goes to lead the black dog on a magical journey that shrinks the black dog as it follows after her.

You might be big, I might be small,

but I’m not afraid of you at all.

And by the time Small brings the dog into the house, the Hope family realizes that the dog was neither as huge nor as scary as they had imagined.  It is a lovely message for kids but it is Pinfold’s astonishing illustrations that steal the book.  Each double page spread features one full page illustration faced by a page of text peppered with intriguing thumbnail sketches that enhance the narrative.  The illustrations are surreal and whimsical at the same time and each large illustration is crammed with absorbing detail.  The style reminds me of Shaun Tan’s work, especially in the drawings of the figures.  I loved the soft palette Pinfold uses and the small humorous touches throughout the book.

This is a book the older members of our focus group found especially interesting and they were drawn to it immediately by the cover.  I often just put books on our dining room table and see what catches the boys’ attentions when they get home from school.  This one was picked up instantly and squabbled over and got an enthusiastic 3 thumbs-up.  They recommend this for “older readers.”

Black dog interiorCindy: Looking at this quaint cover art you might be surprised when you start turning the pages, especially when Small heads outside and the reader is faced with a two page spread filled with the face of a big black dog and prominent nostrils poised over a tiny yellow-raincoated Small (the speck in the bottom right corner of this image).

I love the long-john wearing family with colanders and funnels on their heads for helmet protection against the big bad black dog. I also love the sepia toned final page with Small, arm slung around the black dog:

“There was nothing to be scared of, you know,” replied Small Hope as she went to sit by the fire. And the black dog followed.

Don’t miss this one. Seriously.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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