How about this for a cliché picture book that the world has no use for: a boy and girl want to adopt a stray dog, their parents say no, but eventually the parents come around and they retrieve the dog? Doesn’t that just sound so rehashed? It’s a 2001 book by Marc Simont, The Stray Dog. But no wonder it was named a Caldecott Honor Book. In Simont’s apt and elderly hands it’s a delightful gem.
You just about tear up thinking of this man whose first children’s book came out in 1939 and is 96 at the time of this writing (September ’12) still working with such freshness and vigor. Simont has over 100 books, many as illustrator only. I’m most familiar with him as the illustrator of the Nate the Great books by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. And recently a friend loaned me the classic 1950 James Thurber fairy tale, The Thirteen Clocks which is great enhanced by Simont’s work.
The Stray Dog comes from a true story Simont’s friend Reiko Sassa told him. Simont started his career at a time when many picture books were incredibly wordy, excruciating for the modern reader. But Simont’s text is very brief and effective. No one needs to say how cute Willy is or how badly they want to adopt him. You see it all in their faces and actions. My first encounter with this book was reading in a small group speech class. Everyone was sucked right in and noticed great little details, like dad absently over-pouring his coffee because he’s still thinking about their stray friend. The Stray Dog is delicious and perfect from beginning to end.