CAN I BE YOUR DOG? by Troy Cummings

Back in the Before Times when we were still crowding into libraries, I’d checked out stacks of picture books to prepare for a writing workshop (which happened) and my weekly one-on-one, side-by-side reading sessions with two first graders (not happening any time soon). 

I’ve since returned the books to our now-open-for-curbside-pickup-only library, but I saved one of my all-time favorites to share here. Every time I read Can I Be Your Dog? by Troy Cummings (Random House, 2018), I discover some new element to appreciate. 

How do I love this book? Let me count the ways:

1.   The epistolary format. Not only is “epistolary” a fun word to say, the exchange-of-letters format works great in picture books. Plus, maybe (maybe?) it will encourage letter writing among the younger set before this form of communication goes the way of the dodo.

The book is a series of letters exchanged between Arfy the dog and his neighbors. In each of Arfy’s letters, he asks to be adopted. In each of the replies, the answer is . . . not affirmative. Here’s Arfy’s first letter: 

2.    The distinctive voice(s).  The beauty of letters is that they reveal character. Maybe not as clearly as private journal entries (another great picture book format), but each letter gives us a sense of the writer’s personality. For example, after his first rejection, Arfy writes to the Chop Chop Butcher Shop. We get a little glimpse of what the butcher’s like from her response:

3.   The humor. Notice the fun wordplay in that response? I’ve got a bone to pick with you says the butcher, Veronica Shank. Clever, right? And in the response from the firehouse below, we get some grown-up humor in the form letter format, plus some kid-friendly bathroom (er, hydrant) humor:

4.   It pulls the heartstrings. It’s about a dog—a sweet, lonely, homeless dog—who just wants to be loved and cared for. 

5.   It’s suspenseful.  With each letter and subsequent rejection, we feel Arfy’s hopes deflate and his expectations wither. Will he ever be adopted? His prospects look increasingly bleak, culminating in this response from the last (and least appealing) house on the block:

6.   It builds drama visually too. Troy uses wordless scenes to slow things down so we can empathize with poor Arfy alone in his cardboard box on a rainy night—oh, the misery!—and better appreciate the joy he feels when at last he gets the offer he’s been longing for.

7.   The “Aww” ending.  That offer comes from—who else?—the mail carrier who’s been delivering all his letters. Observant readers of the book may notice her in many of the scenes and predict this outcome. And, in another nice touch, her note mimics the opening line of Arfy’s letters: Can I be your person?

8.   The endpapers. In the front, we’ve got clever dog-themed stamps, including a “Forever” stamp featuring a cozy home.

In the back, it’s a view of Arfy’s town and all the places he sent letters, which will surely prompt kids to follow Arfy’s route and retell his story.

9.    The call to action. There’s a note on the back endpapers: Here’s how YOU can help a homeless animal. My elderly rescue dogs especially liked that.

SO . . . it’s basically a perfect picture book. And if you’ve missed this one, you can watch none other than Michelle Obama read it over here.


The winner of When the Storm Comes from my last post is Barbara Santucci. (Barbara, please look for my email!)


Thanks for reading, as always —

Linda

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Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 35 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a “how to” e-book for picture book writers.

27 Comments:

  1. Love this. Since I volunteer at my local humane society I can really relate to a dog that is looking for his forever home. I’m definitely buying this book! So cute.

  2. This book sounds wonderful, and I’m going to find it today! I don’t know how I missed it. Thank you!

  3. This looks perfect. My great step daughter in law works for the Humane Society and they adopt lots of dogs. I need this book for my 4 and 6 year old g grand kids.

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    Sheri Delgado-Preston

    Awe, I cannot wait to read this funny, sweet, and captivating book! We LOVE dogs, so you had me at the cover. Congrats!

  5. This does look like the perfect picture book. It’s got all the winning components and I can’t wait to read it. Congrats!

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    Elizabeth Curry

    One of my favorites! Thanks for the post.

  7. I heard Troy speak at an SCBWI conference about how he made this book. Perfect on so many levels! I had to run right out and buy it. It’s one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing it, Linda!

  8. Oh my goodness – adding this to my Must Read list!
    So glad that you featured it on PBB.

  9. Thanks for sharing this sweet story. I love it!

  10. This is brilliant! Everything about it this book is perfect. No surprise it’s a NYT bestseller

  11. This is really one of the best books. Just all around a great read for adults and children.

  12. I, too, love the epistolary format very, very much being a letter-writing dodo myself. Such a lovely book.

  13. I love the format, and each letter is fun to read. I can see why children will love it!

  14. I love the illustrations…. wow… the more I learn about childrens books the more respect I have for authors who illustrate/ artists who write….

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    Janet Frenck Sheets

    I don’t typically gravitate toward epistolary picture books, but it looks like Troy Cummings uses the format brilliantly! How could anyone not root for Arfy? I’ll be checking this one out.

  16. This book looks brilliant…thanks for the introduction. 🙂

  17. I adored this book. I got it on one of my raids of new library books. It was SOOOOOooooo hard to return it. Thanks for the great insight on the different elements of this awesome picture book.

  18. This is one of my favorites, too! Thank you for breaking down why it works on so many levels. Great post!!

  19. This is such a cute story! Thanks for the great post.

  20. Yes, it is a wonderful book. Thank you for pointing out all the details.

  21. Perfect picture book is right. I love that it is in support of homeless animals.

  22. This is such a great book!…I had the pleasure of signing my picture book next to Troy Cummings last year in Indianapolis. He’s just as wonderful as his books.

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    Angie Quantrell

    I love this book! Wonderful on so many levels. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Aww. What a sweet book.

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    Katherine House

    I’ve had this book out of the library a few times and recommend it to writer friends. So glad to see you pointing out the elements I love about it. And I use it as an example of how writers of fiction can include meaningful back matter.

  26. It’s one of my favorites! I love reading this one to my Pre-K class!

  27. This is one of my favorite books!!

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