Today I played with two cats, both of whom are young and spastically agile. My cat is neither of those things. Approaching her 18th year, gone are the days when a fuzzy mouse was worthy of a leap over the back of a couch. Activities that draw her attention are of a less physically strenuous nature: snacks, mild dog-teasing, and sleeping. The aging lab in Elisha Cooper’s new book Homer is of an equivalent vintage, and though life may be winding down, he too has found peace in a slower, quieter existence (minus the dog-teasing.)
Homer is a big yellow dog, whose expression lay somewhere between soulful and bemused. Surrounded by sandy-beached seascape, Homer’s domain is the family cottage, where little girls in pony tails, boys on bicycles, and an assortment of eager dogs swirl around in playful chaos. Observing family engaged in activities he most certainly used to be part of, Homer now watches from a comfortable spot on the sun-warmed porch, perhaps reliving happy memories of summers past. (I’m anthropomorphizing here; who knows if dogs have memories, but the thoughtful expression on his face is one I’ve seen on my own family dog.) Homer graciously accepts the flowers the little girl weaves into his fur while sitting atop his ottoman-like frame, but says no to a trip to the market. The family engages Homer, enquiring about his needs, conversing with him, respectful of his age, but attentive. As the day closes, Homer retires to a comfy chair; a small slice of life as viewed by a senior member of a large and boisterous family, who just happens to be a dog.
The storytelling is simple, and very sweet, with as much if not more narrative in the illustrations. Even without the words, Homer’s role as observer is clear, as is the love within the family. The translucent watercolours by New York artist Elisha Cooper have the languid, sun-dappled feel of a summer day; softly applied, with details of faces and landscapes an impression rather than exact representation, like clouds scuttering across the sky. As lovely and peaceful as an old dog.
Interestingly, when I was approached by the artist to review his book, I did a bit of research and discovered he is the author/illustrator of Magic Thinks Big, a book I fell in love with in 2006, not simply because it reminded me of my own fat cat, but also for Cooper’s skill at capturing personality in utter stillness. The scene of Magic travelling across a lake on top of a moose is one of my favourite illustrations of all time. So funny. So cat.
Elisha Cooper is the award-winning author of Farm, Beach, Magic Thinks Big, and Dance!, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book, as well as other acclaimed titles. His books for adults include the memoir Crawling: A Father’s First Year.
Elisha Cooper lives with his family in New York City.
Homer by Elisha Cooper, published by Greenwillow Books 2012 ISBN: 978-0062012487
Magic Thinks Big by Elisha Cooper, published by Greenwillow Books