Dogs and Cats, Part 1

The Diverting History of John GilpinIt is almost guar­an­teed that chil­dren will respond favor­ably to ani­mal sto­ries, espe­cial­ly sto­ries with dogs and cats. Two-thirds of Amer­i­can house­holds own dogs or cats. Nine­teenth cen­tu­ry British illus­tra­tor Ran­dolph Calde­cott seemed to under­stand the nat­ur­al affin­i­ty between chil­dren and ani­mals. Before sci­ence doc­u­ment­ed the impor­tance of pets in children’s lives, he includ­ed ani­mals in most of his illus­tra­tions, and they added to the frol­ick­ing fun that ani­mat­ed his scenes.

Many Calde­cott Award illus­tra­tors also include ani­mals in their art­work, par­tic­u­lar­ly dogs and cats. They are main char­ac­ters, sup­port­ing cast mem­bers, or some­times just includ­ed in a scene. Sev­er­al are based on real ani­mals the illus­tra­tors have known. Shar­ing anec­dotes and inter­est­ing facts about the real dogs and cats of Calde­cott Award books make the illus­tra­tors come alive for chil­dren. They add both “human inter­est” and “ani­mal interest.”

The Stray DogTrue sto­ries have a spe­cial appeal to chil­dren. After hear­ing or read­ing a sto­ry, they fre­quent­ly ask, “Did that real­ly hap­pen?” Marc Simont relates a heart­warm­ing true sto­ry about how his friend Reiko Sassa’s fam­i­ly adopt­ed Willy in The Stray Dog, a 2002 Calde­cott Hon­or book. While on a fam­i­ly pic­nic, a boy and girl play with a scruffy lit­tle dog in the park. They name him Willy but must part with him when the fam­i­ly returns home because “He must belong to somebody…and they would miss him.” Each fam­i­ly mem­ber wor­ries about Willy through­out the week. They return to the park the fol­low­ing Sat­ur­day hop­ing to see him. And, they do, only Willy doesn’t stop to vis­it. He races by with the dog war­den in close pur­suit. With Willy cow­er­ing beneath his net, the war­den informs the chil­dren, “He has no col­lar. He has no leash…This dog is a stray. He doesn’t belong to any­body.” The boy removes his belt and the girl removes her hair rib­bon. “Here’s his collar…Here’s his leash…His name is Willy, and he belongs to us.” With sim­ple water­col­ors, Simont shows Willy’s curios­i­ty, play­ful­ness, ter­ror, hope, and joy.

A Ball for DaisyChris Rasch­ka also uses water­col­ors to depict a range of emo­tions in Daisy after she los­es her most prized pos­ses­sion when anoth­er dog pops her ball in the park. In A Ball for Daisy, the word­less 2013 Calde­cott Medal book, Raschka’s ges­tur­al art deft­ly cap­tures Daisy’s bewil­der­ment, anger, dejec­tion, and sor­row. Though not exact­ly a true sto­ry, it is based on a true inci­dent that hap­pened to Raschka’s son Ingo. When Ingo was four years old, a neighbor’s dog named Daisy took his yel­low ball, bit down too hard on it, and broke it. This Daisy was a large black dog, not the Daisy of the book. But his son expe­ri­enced emo­tions of dis­be­lief, dev­as­ta­tion, and irrev­o­ca­ble loss sim­i­lar to Daisy. In his Calde­cott Medal accep­tance speech, Rasch­ka said, “The task of a pic­ture book illus­tra­tor, I would say, is to remem­ber a par­tic­u­lar emo­tion, height­en it, and then cap­ture it in some paint­ed vocab­u­lary, so that the same emo­tion is evoked in the child, in the read­er.” Both he and Marc Simont do this elo­quent­ly with what appear to be effort­less brush strokes.

The Garden of Abdul GasaziChris Van Alls­burg writes and illus­trates a sto­ry about a real dog, although the sto­ry is not true. He intro­duces Fritz in his first book The Gar­den of Abdul Gasazi that won a Calde­cott Hon­or in 1980. Fritz is Miss Hester’s mis­chie­vous dog who leads Alan on a wild chase through a mys­te­ri­ous magician’s gar­den. Van Alls­burg envi­sioned Fritz to be a bull ter­ri­er. When his broth­er-in-law told him that he was going to pur­chase a dog, Van Alls­burg con­vinced him to buy a bull ter­ri­er, and he used his brother-in-law’s dog Win­ston as the mod­el for Fritz. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the dog was hit by a car and died. To hon­or the con­tri­bu­tion of Win­ston to his first book, Van Alls­burg gives him cameo appear­ances his oth­er books, two of which won Calde­cott Medals. Done in pen­cil in the same sur­re­al­is­tic style, Fritz is a pull toy in Juman­ji, the 1982 Calde­cott Medal win­ner. Switch­ing to dreamy water­col­ors in the 1986 Calde­cott Medal book The Polar Express, Fritz is the hand pup­pet on the bed­post in the lit­tle boy’s room.

from Officer Buckle and Gloria
illus­tra­tion from Offi­cer Buck­le and Glo­ria, copy­right Peg­gy Rath­mann, pub­lished by G.P. Put­nam’s Sons, 1995

Glo­ria is the canine celebri­ty of Offi­cer Buck­le and Glo­ria, the 1996 Calde­cott Medal win­ner. Unbe­knownst to her part­ner Office Buck­le, Glo­ria mimes his safe­ty tips behind his back when he address­es school audi­ences. The stu­dents roar their approval, and Offi­cer Buck­le thinks the applause is for him. He doesn’t dis­cov­er he’s been upstaged until he sees his speech tele­vised on the 10:00 o’clock news. On her web­site, the author/illustrator Peg­gy Rath­mann reveals that her fam­i­ly dog, who did naughty things when no one was watch­ing, was an influ­ence on her writ­ing. She relates the sto­ry of the time her moth­er was being video­taped in the din­ing room, and the dog was lick­ing all the poached eggs on the buf­fet behind her. Nei­ther her moth­er nor the per­son behind the cam­era noticed. Film­ing con­tin­ued while the fam­i­ly ate break­fast and com­ment­ed on the deli­cious eggs. Rath­mann writes, “The first time we watched that tape we were so shocked, we couldn’t stop laugh­ing.” Rathmann’s use of bright water­col­ors and car­toon style fits the humor­ous mood of this story.

Just as authors often write about what they know, illus­tra­tors often draw what they know, and some­times they include their own pets in their illus­tra­tions. Beth Krommes includ­ed many of her favorite things in her 2009 Calde­cott Medal book The House in the Night writ­ten by Susan Marie Swan­son. She sets the sto­ry in the rolling coun­try­side of Penn­syl­va­nia where she grew up. In the sto­ry, Krommes incor­po­rates her young self as the child and the fam­i­ly pet Scamp as the dog. In the first illus­tra­tion of the sto­ry, the dog is fea­tured promi­nent­ly. Very faint­ly, the name Scamp is scratched on his dog tag. The black and white scratch­board tech­nique Krommes employs unique­ly depicts night­time dark­ness and allows for warm gold­en yel­low highlights.

illustration from The House in the Dark
illus­tra­tion from The House in the Night, copy­right Beth Krommes, pub­lished by HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2008

Mau­rice Sendak and David Shan­non also includ­ed their own dogs in books. Sendak had a Sealy­ham ter­ri­er named Jen­nie who is the wor­ried dog Max chas­es while bran­dish­ing a fork in Where the Wild Things Are, win­ner of the 1964 Calde­cott Medal. Jen­nie is fea­tured in her own book Hig­gledy Pig­gledy Pop! Or There Must Be More to Life in which she becomes the lead­ing lady of the World Moth­er Goose The­atre. The book was writ­ten in 1967 as a trib­ute to Jen­nie after she died, and though it did not win a Calde­cott Award, it was made into a movie.

illustration from Where the Wild Things Are
illus­tra­tion from Where the Wild Things Are, copy­right Mau­rice Sendak, pub­lished by Harper­Collins, 1963

David Shan­non also immor­tal­ized his dog, a West High­land ter­ri­er named Fer­gus, in his book Good Boy, Fer­gus! Though not a major char­ac­ter in the 1999 Calde­cott Hon­or book No, David!, Fer­gus can be spot­ted watch­ing David in the illus­tra­tion in which the lit­tle boy runs naked down the street. Fer­gus also appears in oth­er David books. Both Sendak and Shan­non draw in car­toon style, but the breeds of their dogs are clear­ly discernable.

illustration from No, David!
illus­tra­tion from No, David!, copy­right David Shan­non, pub­lished by Blue Sky Press, 1998

Pic­ture Books Cited

Rasch­ka, C. (2001). A Ball for Daisy. New York: Schwartz & Wade.

Rath­mann, P. (1995) Office Buck­le and Glo­ria. New York: Putnam.

Simont, M. (2001). The Stray Dog: From a True sto­ry by Reiko Sas­sa. New York: HarperCollins.

Sendak, M. (1963). Where the Wild Things Are. New York: Harp­er and Row.

Sendak, M. (1967). Hig­gledy Pig­gledy Pop! Or there must be more to life. New York: HarperCollins.

Shan­non, D. (1998). No, David! New York: Blue Sky.

Shan­non, D. (2006). Good Boy, Fer­gus! New York: Blue Sky.

Swan­son, S. M. & Krommes, B. (2008). The House in the Night. Boston: Houghton Mif­flin Harcourt.

Van Alls­burg, C. (1979). The Gar­den of Abdul Gasazi. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Van Alls­burg, C. (1981). Juman­ji. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Van Alls­burg, C. (1985). The Polar Express. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Krommes, B. (2009). Calde­cott Medal accep­tance speech: On “pow” moments and get­ting “The Call.” Chil­dren and Libraries, 7, (2), 11 – 13.

Lanes, S. G. (1990). The Art of Mau­rice Sendak. New York: Abrams.

Rath­mann, P. (2013). Books by: Peg­gy Rath­mann — offi­cial site: About the author.

Rasch­ka, C. (2012). Calde­cott Medal accep­tance. Horn Book Mag­a­zine, 88, (4), 17 – 25.

Sev­er­son, R. L. (2014). The val­ue of (research on) ani­mals in children’s lives. Human Devel­op­ment, 57: 26 – 29. .

Shan­non, D. (2015). David Shan­non’s web­site: FAQ.

Susi­na, J. (2001). [Review of the book The stray dog by Marc Simont]. The Five Owls, 15, (5).

Van Alls­burg, C. (2015). FAQs.

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Carrie Pearson
3 years ago

Love this new col­umn already!

Tracy Kampa
Tracy Kampa
3 years ago

Thank you, Gail and Hei­di! My brain hears the words in pic­ture books, pick­ing them apart, enjoy­ing how they play in my brain. “See­ing” has always been sec­ondary to my expe­ri­ence. I love this guid­ed trip, and very much look for­ward to more!