Jun 22, 2013

Pets: We Love 'Em, They Love Their Toys

Just when you think all the picture books arriving on shelves feature princesses, trucks, or robots of one sort or another, we're reminded that animal books preceded the royalty trend and continue to find a home on our shelves. The appeal of animals is undeniable. Bunnies, llamas, even dragons and dinosaurs will always have their day, but it's the dog and cat books that are dearest to my heart. In fact, if push comes to shove, dogs win the day.

Sometimes favorites among these will jump up and all but lick me in the face, claiming my attention and my affection. That may be due to personal links to the image of a particular breed, the dog's name, or even  the situation depicted.

Image from American Kennel Club

Sleeping Bear Press, 2012

Scottie dogs are certainly adorable, but the closest I ever came to having one is choosing it as my Monopoly marker. The appeal must be widespread, though, since that little fella was in no danger of replacement in the recent poll to create a new Monopoly marker for the game. 

But even more than the breed, I was attracted to the crisp, bright geometric forms on the cover of SCOUT, by Gordon McMillan. The red ball forming the "O" in the title had an even greater appeal. Scout's lost ball leads him from the fifth to the first floor of his apartment building, collecting helpful  friends along the way. He learns what they can do and they learn what a ball can do. Mouse learns the difference between a red-rind cheese and a toy, and they all learn how much fun it can be to meet new friends and share toys. The simple message and colorful abstract forms make this a great choice for many purposes.

Now, back to that red ball.

Any dog who's being treated with an ounce of decency will have a ball, but the four-legged resident in my home has taken that to a whole new level. The red ball on the cover of SCOUT bounced into my visual field and drew me to the book. The same can be said for my furry family member. No matter how many sizes, shapes and colors he has to choose from, the mouth-sized red ball is his go-to favorite.
The stuffed toy collection is a discussion for another day.
On his first Christmas my sheltie received a hard red ball- didn't bounce, wasn't chewy, and could knock a hole in the wall if thrown too hard. (I prefer no questions as to how I know this to be true.) It did, however, flash brightly and make sounds when rolled. It quickly became his favorite (among many choices, as you can see). In future years, as the original red ball lost its high tech hi-jinx  capabilities, he received duplicates. I stopped counting after eight of them and another sometimes turns up behind a couch. To this day he returns to that original gnarly red ball, bringing it to be played with until even he is exhausted.

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013
The dog to whom this next book is dedicated is also called Scout but is certainly not a Scottie, or a sheltie. BALL, written and illustrated by Mary Sullivan, portrays a single-minded focus that I recognized at a glance. Even for those who never had (or have even known) a dog, this nearly wordless book is a winner. One word of text (ball) is repeated forty-four times in various sizes, upper and lower case, with varying punctuation and by different speakers with equally varied visual interpretation. Every nuance contributes intensity and heart to the story. From front to back endpapers and every turn in between, this is a tour de force of characterization, story, and relationships. 

My dog's physical body looks nothing like "Scout" (to whom the book BALL is lovingly dedicated), but he has displayed every one of Scout's expressions, actions, poses, emotions, devotions, hopes, fears, and even dreams. His favorite red ball looks identical to Scout's. 
This book captures the epitome of a dog's nature- 100% open, out there, devoted, and eager for companionship. 
I'd love to see what Sullivan would do with a comparable CAT book.

Schwartz and Wade, 2011
Not surprisingly, It was a red ball that nearly broke the heart of little Daisy in Chris Raschka's Caldecott winning A BALL FOR DAISY in 2011. You can see from the array pictured above that balls for dogs come in approximately 42.7 kazillion colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. Dogs purportedly are colorblind, but I strongly disagree. My anecdotal experience with several dogs over my lifetime is that they most assuredly can see colors, at least to a degree necessary to distinguish "red ball" from "blue ball", even when the balls otherwise appear to be identical. Based on the frequent appearance of red balls in picture books, as a featured presence or even incidentally, I'm confident we can say red balls are the favorite color for dogs throughout the world. 

If you choose to disagree, discuss it with my little friend here.

Any opinions of your own (or your pet's) on the ideal toy?

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