Title: Black Dog
Author/Illustrator: Levi Pinfold
Age Group: 1-7
Synopsis: The Hope family wakes up to an enormous black dog roaming outside of their home. Their fear continues to grow to enormous heights until the youngest member of their family tackles it head on.
The Low Down:
I’m a sucker for folklore. That being said, Black Dog has absolutely nothing to do with folklore, I just thought that it might. The British folk tales about black dogs are fabulously chilling. Interestingly the stories change by locale but in our area the black dog is seen as a bit more benevolent than anything else. I saw the title and the giant paw print on the first page and added the book to our list. It looked slightly creepy, which is really all I’m capable of managing, with a hint of folklore and redeeming qualities mixed in. I didn’t Bug would like this book. I didn’t even really intend on reading Bug this book. Somehow though, it really struck a chord with him. We’ve read it non-stop for the past few weeks.
The first time I read it, I thought that it was really just a very strange book. Quirkily humorous in places but honestly just strange. It was on the third go that I realized that the story wasn’t meant to be taken literally. The Hope family wakes up and find something frightening outside their home, a big enormous dog. They proceed to find all sorts of ways to deal with it besides facing it: turning off the lights shutting the curtains, hiding under covers, etc. In the midst of this avoidance, their fear (the dog) becomes bigger and more intimidating. The smallest child goes to confront the dog (now the size of a house) and leads it on a merry chase making up songs to taunt it. Because she is so small she can go where the dog cannot: through the trees, under bridges and over ice, down a tunnel slide, etc. By the time she returns home, the dog has shrunk to normal and the family sees the true size of this thing they feared (the dog is small enough to climb through a cat flap). I love the implications here, how things we put off in fear can grow monstrously large in our own minds until they seem to be towering over us. Pinfold does an amazing job of bringing that message through his story, while still giving the family a few funny lines to throw in there. Maurice, the son, asks “’Did you know there’s a black dog the size of a Big Jeffy outside?’ ‘What’s a Big Jeffy?’ asked Adeline Hope.” Thank you Adeline, because I too had no idea what Maurice was talking about when he said a Big Jeffy. He seems to be the wrench in the wheel, so to speak, as later he also misses a poetic opportunity; one that is noted by the author. But for those of you who need to know what in the world a Big Jeffy is, you need only look at the illustrations.
The details that assist the story are hidden throughout the book. The technique reminds me of Jan Brett, who hides stories about trolls and hedgehogs, that relate to the story, in her sidebars. Pinfold does this but in a different way. There are small boxes embroidering the story throughout the book, almost reminiscent of a storyboard. You can see how large the dog is growing outside, how the inside of the house looks from the dogs point of view, and what’s going on with Small and the other family members. They’re a delightful way to give the reader unique insight into the story and it’s characters. It really is the small details that are fabulous throughout the book. You can see the aforementioned Big Jeffy drawn on a kitchen counter in one picture or follow along with the family’s cats. The title page holds a similar drawing to the cover in only that the paw prints of the dog are that of a normal size and on the cover they’re enormous. In this book, that’s based on perceptions, Pinfold does an incredible job of driving that home, in not only his dialogue but his thoughtfully crafted illustrations. It is a book that I’m pleased Bug enjoys. Right now, I know it’s only because of the swings and the the slides and the little girl running about in a yellow coat that draws his attention. But later I hope he can recognize it is also as a message that the perceptions we create of oncoming events, decisions, or even others can forge them into something much more intimidating and ferocious than they actually are. It is only when we approach something or someone directly that we can deal with the threat that they may actually represent. Which sometimes is no threat at all.
- There are so many fun bits in Black Dog! The green octopus toy and yellow solider often make an appearance in the home pages. Their expressions change as well as all of the other little toys who have their hands thrown up in alarm.
- There are also an inordinate amount of owls dolls placed throughout the home. Bug and I sat laughing at how many we could find on one page (10!)
I need more!
Levi Pinfold has two other books, Greenling and The Django and has also beautifully illustrated a few other books including: The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, by Megan Shepard and The Song from Somewhere Else, by A.F. Harrold. He has contributed to a Game of Thrones coloring book and has his own medieval coloring book called Pictura.
Add to my library:
UK Amazon: Black Dog
US Amazon: Black Dog