You’ll fall in love with THIS OLD DOG

So. I’ll start with the truth. I’m not a dog person.

I’m not fond of barking. And jumping and growling. And, after I was bitten by a German Shepherd, I liked dogs even less. They sort of scare me.

Not YOUR dog, of course. I’m sure your dog is lovely. So calm and loyal and well-trained.

This Old Dog

But, well, OTHER dogs just aren’t my thing.

So the fact that I adore Martha Brockenbrough’s and Gabriel Alborozo’s brand-new picture book THIS OLD DOG (published Sept. 1, 2020 from Levine Querido) means it’s got to be good. I didn’t go all mushy for it just because there was a dog on the cover.

Why is this book so good? Let me count the ways:

TOPIC — I’m an outlier. I know it. Most people love dogs. A lot. And, this book has one as the main character. This dog — known only as Old Dog — has a pretty nice life. A family with a new baby. A sunbeam to sleep in, food to eat. Lots of happy memories.

But those happy memories can make Old Dog sad. They’re of when he was vibrant and strong and young. Now, he’s older and creakier, and everything around him seems so fast. He wants to take time to smell and listen and look, but everyone else wants to go, go, go. Old Dog wishes he had a friend to go slowly with.

REPETITION — One of the most effective tools in this book is its repetition of the word “thump.” Old dog’s tail goes “thump-thump.” So does his heart. So do the baby’s feet on the floor as she learns to walk. And Old Dog’s feet when he realizes the baby is growing into his perfect friend.

LANGUAGE — There are so many unexpected touches of loveliness in the language of this books. Like this series of sentences describing Old Dog:

He wants to sniff each blade of grass. He wants to take the time to find a just-right rock, and he wants to hear the leaves tell what it’s like to live in a tree.

That extra, unexpected detail about listening to the leaves elevates the writing and creates a wow moment in the reader’s mind. It’s so surprising, yet so understandable, that readers will have to pause and think about it.

Another beautiful use of language is when the baby starts going with Old Dog to do things at his pace. They smell the grass and find a rock — and then — she takes a leaf and puts it on his head. The next four-word sentence, on a page by itself, is:

“It’s a crown of gold.”

And, the art shows the leaf glowing like a golden crown with Old Dog looking like he’s just been anointed. Like the other line I mentioned, it’s unexpected in the best possible way. In fact, it’s picture book perfection.

A MOMENT THAT’S OFTEN MISSING — This book, like most picture books, has a main character that wants something. In this case, a friend to go slowly with. But what this book also has — that some other picture books miss — is a moment, brief as it may be, where the main character looks like they may not get what they want and then takes a moment to feel their feelings. (A lot of picture books and picture book drafts I see skip this feeling part. It’s an important beat in almost any story, though, and when it’s well done like it is here, it adds a needed emotional punch.)

In this case, the moment is two short sentences after Old Dog realizes the world is leaving him behind:

His heart thumps.
His tail does not.

When you read those lines, in the context of the story, with all the other ways “thump” has been used, you feel exactly what Old Dog feels — whether you like dogs or not. And that, dear readers, is the hallmark of a winning picture book.

RESOLUTION — Spoiler alert: Old Dog does NOT die in this book. There’s a very satisfying resolution of the dog and his girl filling a very special spot in each other’s lives, with the strong implication that there are more lovely memories to be made.

Now, I’ll conclude this post with a request that Martha and Gabriel and Levine Querido team up on a book about a cat. Because I AM a cat person.

27 Comments:

  1. This looks like a lovely book! Even though I am not a dog person either . . . I was bitten once by our mean wiener dog growing up. So l love your suggestion of a cat book next!!!! I am definitely a cat person too.

  2. This is so lovely…and I heartily endorse This Old Cat! Another cat-lover here, though my dog is the most loyal.

  3. Repetition, language, and an emotional connection all make for an outstanding picture book that kids will want to listen to and read again and again.

    I’m a dog lover who looks forward to reading THIS OLD DOG.

  4. Avatar
    Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Oh my. It sounds so lovely. Off to find a copy!

  5. This book looks lovely -full of heart! And I love dogs too. Congrats!

  6. I love dogs! Thanks for the spoiler alert because I was starting to tear up. I was just writing a draft and trying to think what it was missing and I now I know. Emotion!
    Thanks.

  7. Requesting this one from my library now! Thanks, Pat, for identifying those “moments.” It sounds fabulous. I will read it to my own sweet old dog.

  8. Oh, I’m not crying, you’re crying, Jill. Great review and a haver an Old Dog. This sounds like an excellent book. TY.

  9. Ah! This book will soon go on HOLD at my library’s curbside service. This book looks like a keeper, and I can’t wait to see it. Thank you for the enticing review.

  10. Love this cover Makes you want to jump into the box!

  11. I love that Martha can write a deeply researched YA bio AND a moving fictional PB.

  12. A very enjoyable post, Pat. And this does seem like a gem of a book. Thanks for sharing it.

  13. Thanks for pointing out so many things you noticed, Pat. I might have missed some of them. This was a well written review, and it does sound like a truly great book. I think some of the adult readers of this book feel like Old Dog at times, lol. It makes the story relatable for different ages. There is so much descriptive language used as well. This article actually has given me lots to think about, as far as songwriting, Better writing is better writing, whether in a song or book, You are all helping me learn lots. Congratulations on this captivating and relatable book. I hope to read it. Will check w/our children’s librarian. Stay well all!✌🏼🎶🎨📚😊

  14. I’ll be on the lookout for this. I’m not a dog person either. But I don’t mind dogs in books!

  15. I will look for this one. An easy title to remember. This Old Dog. Thank you for highlighting the gorgeous, sparse writing.

  16. Sounds like this dog person’s kind of book, Pat!

  17. Congratulations, Martha. Those are high compliments coming from Pat. I can’t wait to read it.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Pat. It was a helpful learning experience too!

  18. I love the leaves too: “he wants to hear the leaves tell what it’s like to live in a tree.” I want to hear that!

  19. Sounds lovely! I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.
    Thank you for sharing.

  20. Thanks for the great analysis. This was truly useful!

  21. What a wonderful book! As someone that is coming to realize she is getting older too, this description of Old Dog spoke to my feelings too. From what I can tell, I think this would be a great book for a grandparents’ event. Thank you for sharing! Oh, and I love dogs!

  22. Wonderful post, Pat! I do go all mushy because there is a dog on the cover! But I agree, in all fairness, they should team up for a cat book! Congrats to Martha and Gabriel! I look forward to reading this heartwarming story!

  23. Awww. This post made my heart thump thump. Congratulations, Martha Brockenbrough and Gabriel Alborozo!

  24. This book sounds lovely!

  25. Avatar
    Janet Frenck Sheets

    Looks lovely. And I’m so glad the dog doesn’t die!

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