• Posted on November 18, 2014
Plumdog Blog puddles

Plumdog

I found Plumdog Blog about a year after its inception. I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled upon this incredibly endearing, beautifully illustrated online diary of a dog and her owner, but once I did, I was hooked. Written by British Plumdog coverillustrator Emma Chichester Clark, or should I say, her dog Plum (with help from Emma), Plumdog Blog is a cleverly conceived and brilliantly executed glimpse into the life of a whippet/jack russell/poodle cross, and by extension, her human mum. As a children’s literature blogger, I am online for big chunks of the day – to the point of overstimulation. Plumdog, whenever it is posted (usually every two or three days), quiets the noise, instantly drawing me into a simpler, softer world – Plum’s world, but also a very English world, where grass stays green all year long, it rains an awful lot, and life, while sometimes harried, is always sweet. Plumdog collects the best of the posts in book form, and it is most definitely – one of the best books of the year.

Plumdog walking

Plumdog presents us with a world seen from an unusual perspective – the daily life of an illustrator from a dog’s point of view, and a dog’s life from the dog’s point of view. Beyond the obvious (and delightful) humour of the situation, what becomes clear, especially when read as a collection, is that Emma and Plum are living their lives at different speeds. Emma’s life, as one would expect of a prolific and popular illustrator, is a whirlwind of public/personal activity and looming deadlines, much of it (but not all) spent in the company of her observant little pup. Unlike humans, dogs are always in the moment – a point that is wondrously captured in Plumdog. We see, and more importantly, feel Plum’s joyful appreciation of the now, which more often than not revolves around water. Any puddle, stream, or lake will do, regardless of the weather. I think I know a dog or two like that.

Plumdog shadows

Still, life does not always go Plum’s way. Routines are interrupted, relationships with other dogs are mostly – but not always, friendly, and some days Plum is left behind, not knowing when or even if Emma will return (inspiring one of the most poignant moments in the book). I’ve often wondered what dogs (and cats) think when we leave them at home. Do they feel abandoned, or do they believe we are waiting just outside the door, and if so, do they think we are idiots? How do dogs experience time? Like Emma (and anthropomorphizers everywhere), I just naturally assume that dogs are capable of complex thought, which makes Plumdog a useful and exceedingly charming guide to the inner workings of a dog’s mind and, in all other ways, a perfect gem of a picture book.

Plumdog coming back 2

Prior to Plumdog Blog, I was a distant admirer of Emma Chichester Clark, but not overly familiar with her work. It was simply a matter of proximity – her books are not as well known in North America as they are in the UK and Europe. Since then, however, I have become a true fan of her art, and am slowly building my collection of books. One might assume that because Plumdog is a series of journal entries the art is mere dressing for Plum’s story – a visual record rather than fully realized illustrations, but this is not the case. The watercolours, especially the full-page spreads, are ravishing. Come for the dog, stay for the art! I am simply in awe of her ability to capture expression and body language with minimal brushstrokes, and the settings – interior and particularly exterior, are breathtaking. There is an immediacy to the illustrations which suggests a very sure (and quick) hand, and indeed, in Plumdog Blog (but not the book) the paper is often visibly warped by the watercolour. These are true in the moment creations, but taken as a whole, Plumdog weaves a tale that is full of warmth, humour, and above all, pure dog joy.

Plumdog Puddles 2

Emma and PlumAccording to her website, Emma Chichester Clark was ‘born in Hyde Park Corner, London, but grew up in the countryside in Ireland in an old white farmhouse surrounded by fields.’ A graduate of the Royal College of Art in London (tutored by none other than Quentin Blake and Michael Foreman, among others), Emma has illustrated many books, including the very popular Blue Kangaroo series, as well as books by Roald Dahl, Kevin Crossley, and Michael Morpurgo. She lives in West London with her husband, stepsons, and a lovely little dog named Plum.

PLUMDOG by Emma Chichester Clark. Published by Jonathan Cape, 2014

And for the continuing adventures of Plum, click on PLUMDOG BLOG. I demand it!

  • Posted on June 18, 2014
Mister Bud Wears the Cone fight

Mister Bud Wears the Cone

Some books radiate charm. Often, it’s not any one factor, but a seamless blend of clever writing, exquisite illustration, and a third, more elusive ingredient – a goodness, for lack of a better word, superseding all. This is Carter Goodrich territory. With the release of Mister Bud Wears the Cone, the third book in his dog-centric series, I can state unequivocally (and with a great deal of affection), the man knows how to charm.

Mister Bud Wears the Cone further examines the sometimes fractious relationship between two dogs: Mister Bud, a generously snouted, routine-loving mutt, and Zorro, a tiny, goatee’d pug. In the first book of the series, Say Hello to Zorro, Mister Bud is introduced to Zorro, his new ‘sibling’, and is none too pleased to share his comfortable, predictable life with the eager young pup. In the second book, Zorro Gets an Outfit, it is the pug who is faced with an untenable situation, in this case an embarrassing piece of clothing, and like Mister Bud, his path toward resolution is both funny and sweet. In Mister Bud Wears the Cone, the bone is once again tossed to Mister Bud, who in this outing must deal with that most intrusive of protective pet care devices – the dreaded cone of shame.

Mister Bud Wears the Cone blue

As the story opens, Mister Bud has developed a hot spot on his flank, which he can’t stop bothering. His mother (who like all humans in this series is never fully depicted), comforts Mister Bud with ointment and hugs, which infuriates Zorro. Not only is he grabbing all the attention, his ailment is delaying their shared schedule of ‘biscuit then a walk time.’ It gets worse. Mister Bud must wear the cone. Mister Bud hates the cone. For awhile, he has an ally in Zorro, Mister Bud Wears the Cone cone onwho tries to help Mister Bud remove it, but when all attempts fail, Zorro loses interest. Like all similarly afflicted dogs, Mister Bud is a half-blind, stumbling disaster with the cumbersome cone. Like all siblings, Zorro can’t help teasing Mister Bud, laughing at his clumsiness while helping himself to the biscuits. When Zorro takes his favourite toy, Mister Bud runs after the pug and the cone knocks over a lamp, breaking it. Never let it be said dogs aren’t capable of schadenfreude. While Mister Bud cowers under a chair, consumed with guilt, Zorro eagerly awaits the inevitable parental reprimand. But…as anyone who has ever been around an animal wearing a cone knows, it is impossible to feel anything but sympathy, and in Mister Bud Wears the Cone, generosity of the heart, and of the treat, is a given.

The continuing adventures of Mister Bud and Zorro are meant to be funny and entertaining, and they most certainly are, but as an illustrator and dog lover, what I find particularly interesting is how Goodrich imbues his pooches with pure canine authenticity. They are the very personification of the complex emotional lives of dogs. This is no small feat. Goodrich is a master of comic characterization, and from schnozz to tiny paws, these dogs are hilarious. Their wildly expressive and beautifully exaggerated features might exclude them from the Westminster Dog Show, but Goodrich never loses Mister Bud Wears the Cone annoys Zorrosight of their essential dogness. It’s in their physicality – in the way they hold their bodies, the perkiness of their ears, how they lean in, how they nap – it’s all dog, and because of this, these tells, they radiate emotion. It’s easy to love these guys – to feel for them, to laugh at their predicaments, to sympathize not only with Mister Bud’s frustrations, but also Zorro’s. Anyone who has ever had a sibling, or is the parent of siblings, will recognize the rivalries, but also the companionship that forgives all. Anyone who has ever had a dog will see their own mutt in these comical canines, cone or no cone. And even if none of the above applies, Mister Bud Wears the Cone is just a darn good story, with heart-thumping emotion, loveable characters, and spectacular art.

Mister Bud Wears the Cone mom

My favourite doggy in the world underwent surgery several weeks ago for the removal of five lumps (all benign, thankfully.) When Maggie was released the day after surgery, she had two large shaved patches on both sides of her torso, another two on her neck, and multiple stitches. Doped up and disoriented, she emerged out of the back of the vet’s office wearing a comically large cone and a woeful, accusatory expression. In short, she looked miserable, very much like Mister Bud. The cone didn’t last beyond the car, the patient didn’t bother with her wounds (much), and once the daily schedule of biscuit-then-nap-time resumed, she relaxed. Like Mister Bud and Zorro, it’s all about the routine. And the snacks.

Mister Bud Wears the Cone coverI am a long-time fan of Carter Goodrich, having been an illustration junkie for many years. Particular favourites are his numerous New Yorker covers, and his character designs for Despicable Me, Ratatouille, The Croods, and Finding Nemo, among others. A Rhode Island School of Design graduate, Mr Goodrich has illustrated a number of children’s picture books, including A Creature Was Stirring, The Hermit Crab, and the aforementioned Say Hello to Zorro and Zorro Gets an Outfit. Fingers (and paws) crossed, Mister Bud Wears the Cone will not be the last in this brilliant, and beautifully imagined series.

MISTER BUD WEARS THE CONE by Carter Goodrich. Simon and Schuster, 2014

Previously reviewed (click on the title):

Zorro Gets and Outfit by Carter Goodrich. Published by Simon & Schuster, 2012

Say Hello to Zorro by Carter Goodrich. Published by Simon & Schuster, 2011

– See more at: http://32pages.ca/2012/06/17/zorro-gets-an-outfit/#sthash.XDdNpc7c.dpuf

Zorro Gets and Outfit by Carter Goodrich. Published by Simon & Schuster, 2012

Say Hello to Zorro by Carter Goodrich. Published by Simon & Schuster, 2011

– See more at: http://32pages.ca/2012/06/17/zorro-gets-an-outfit/#sthash.XDdNpc7c.dpuf

ZORRO GETS AN OUTFIT by Carter Goodrich. Simon and Schuster, 2012

SAY HELLO TO ZORRO! by Carter Goodrich. Simon and Schuster, 2011

Zorro Gets an OutfitSay Hello to Zorro!

 

 

  • Posted on September 03, 2012
Homer at the lake

Home Is Where the Dog Is

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.)

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  • Posted on June 17, 2012
Zorro Gets an Outfit cover image

Zorro Gets An Outfit

I  am currently living with a cat and a dog. I love my cat, but it’s hard to read her emotions. Her expression rarely changes, even as the claws come out. She’s an action cat. Not much of a feeler. The dog, on the other hand, registers every emotion from joy to deep existential pain. It’s true that most of her emotional life revolves around food, and the procurement thereof, but whatever she’s feeling, we know it, from the direction and flaccidity of her ears, to the raised eyebrows, ear-cracking barks, and most especially, the world-weary sigh of a wish unfufilled. As my nieces would say, she’s an EMO. All dogs are EMO, including Zorro, star of the new book by Carter Goodrich, Zorro Gets an Outfit.

In the first book of the series, Say Hello to Zorro, it was Mister Bud who suffers an indignity when a rambunctious pug named Zorro enters his life, wreaking havoc on his meticulously scheduled existence. In Zorro Gets an Outfit, the tables are reversed, and it is the pug who must learn to adapt. Of course, when your name is Zorro, it is inevitable that you will, at some point, sport a cape…

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  • Posted on May 30, 2011
Steadman Beanie detail

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Ralph Steadman, that’s who; the maestro of caricature, the prince of  ink, the spewer of satire, the Big I Am. Yes, Ralph Steadman is God, and I will accept no argument to the contrary. He is a true original, and his sardonic, splattered wit has been copied by generations of illustrators, myself included. Most of his books have found a home on my shelves, and I am slightly ashamed to admit that on a trip to Newcastle in the 1993, I dragged my sister and newborn niece to see a showing of his work in Aberdeen, Scotland. It was a long train ride, but worth every minute to be in the same room with Ralph Steadman originals (or so my 6 month old niece gurgled.)

The Ralph Steadman Book of Dogs is his latest publication, and it is wonderfully and gorgeously daft. Also, a bit rude, in keeping with Ralph’s life-long illlustrative embrace of the less than lovely aspects of being human, or in this case, being dog. Expect to see a few steaming piles alongside brilliant drawings of dogs in all their idiosyncratic glory. But make no mistake, Ralph Steadman is a dog lover. This is his fourth book on dogs, and as per usual, there is no end to the inventiveness of his line. This is a man who mastered the finer points of drawing a long time ago and now, with a flick of his pen, expertly (and effortlessly) captures the essense of whatever or whomever is the subject of his ferocious intellect, be it Osama bin Laden or a poodle.

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