it’s raining cats and dogs!…five happy stories full of four-legged friends

Charley’s First Night, by Amy Hest, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Charley is small and golden, with a little round belly, a waggling-snip of a tail, velvety ears, and earnest brown eyes.  He is Henry’s brand new puppy.  The first, very first night, that Charley comes to live with Henry, it is snowy and cold.  Charley is so small and Henry is such a tender-hearted owner that he scoops Charley up in his wonderful old baby blanket and carefully carries him home.

At home, Henry introduces Charley to the household and gets him nicely settled.  In the kitchen.  Mom and Dad have been perfectly clear about the Rules governing Charley, including the no-sleeping-in-Henry’s-bedroom rule.  But that’s okay, because  Henry clearly thinks of everything to make Charley feel safe and cozy for his first night in the house.  He bends over backwards to help Charley drift off to sleep happily.  He tiptoes upstairs only after his charge is fast asleep.

Then — in the dark stillness of night, Henry hears a pitiful crying sound.  It’s Charley!  Henry lovingly works to get Charley back to sleep, and finally succeeds.  Phew!  Back to bed goes Henry.  But wouldn’t you know it, a while later, that plaintive crying starts again!  What is Henry to do?  How will this little boy with a marshmallow heart manage Charley’s long first night?

Oh my goodness — this story line, these illustrations, that familiar puppy’s-first-night experience that many of us can recall so vividly!  It all comes together in this gem of a picture book.  Henry is utterly charming, so taken with this puppy you can just about feel his heart bursting with love and adoration beneath his blue striped pajamas.  Charley, so adorable, so small, you can just about feel his warm little tummy and smell his sweet puppy breath.  The connection between these two, Henry’s devotion, the comfort Charley takes in Henry’s care — it’s all there, ready to be lapped up by anyone ages 2-100 who shares a love for dogs.

Hest’s tender story, paired affectionately with Helen Oxenbury’s perfect paintings  are a dream come true.  Don’t miss this one!

The Reader, by Amy Hest, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Another boy-and-dog story by the same author; I normally avoid this in my lists-of-five, but there you go.  Amy Hest has crafted two phenomenally-appealing stories and teamed up with two of my favorite illustrators.

“The reader” is a little, stouthearted boy, armed with a “sturdy suitcase” an old-fashioned red sled, and accompanied by a friskity, frolicsome, puppy.  These two are on some kind of trek.  What can it be?  Where are they headed so determinedly?  While the puppy bounds joyously, “the reader” trudges through snow, plods ever onward, pulling that heavy sled, up, up, up to the top of the hill, while snow swirls and cold winds blow.  Uff da.  Can you feel how ambitious this is?!

Finally, they arrive.  Hurrah!  All alone, with snow curtaining off the rest of the world, they enjoy some well-deserved goodies — cocoa and toast.  Mmmm!  It’s so quiet; a blanket of snow hushes all the world.  Then…snap! click!  go the hinges on the important brown suitcase and out comes…a book.  It’s the culmination of the whole trip.  Amid the dreamy snowfall, on the top of the world, the boy settles in and reads a story to his dog.  Because, he is a Reader!

Ahhhh!  What a superb thing to be.  An independent reader!  Amy Hest captures the proud sweetness of this in her understated, yet strong, joyful story.  Lauren Castillo has fabulously illustrated it, of course.  Her solid, rosy-cheeked, plucky boy and his energetic pup win our hearts from page one, while the snowy landscape,  the jolly red accents of boots and buttons and sled against the white-and-gray icy chill set a perfect stage for this small drama.  I adore the utterly natural postures and footprints of this capable duo.  Pour up some hot chocolate, build a blanket fort, squinch inside, and make your own bit of magic by Reading this book!

Old Robert and the Sea-Silly Cats, by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Jan Jutte

Dear Old Robert.  He’s an old salt who has lived a long time on his very own ship, becoming firmly grounded in his own ways of doing everything.  Life is all in perfect, regimented order:  Sail by day; dock by night; same supper at the same table with the same familiar things surrounding him — a clock, clean socks, a dish, a spoon.  He doesn’t require or want much except to follow his steadfast routine.

Robert’s ordinary habits, however, take a lurch when he hears a strange sound one evening.  It sounds like the wind, but…not exactly.  What could it be?  Turns out, it’s a cat.  A dancing cat, in a “pale pink dress light as a whisper, soft as a secret.”  Robert is entranced, so…even though this is quite a disruption to his staid life, Robert rigs up a wee hammock for this little cat and welcomes someone new to his ship.

Oddly enough, another cat comes by the very next night.  It’s a singing cat.  And the following night, a cat who juggles appears.  As Robert continues ushering these new friends aboard, his life begins to get just a bit mussier and louder and…well, livelier!  Just how far will this go?

This is a merry, fantastical story in praise of companionship and the zest that friends bring to our lives.  Jan Jutte’s illustrations in ink, watercolor, and acrylic, carry a hint of Tintin and a splash of Mother Goose; there’s plenty of the fanciful, yet the scenes also convery an ease and restfulness, soaking up the warmth of camaraderie.  It’s a happy, friendly kind of story that will be read again and again.

The Tale of the Pie and the Patty Pan, written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter

Here’s one of the funniest of Beatrix Potter’s little tales.

It all starts when a cat named Ribby invites her friend, a dog called Duchess, to tea.  Duchess is…mostly happy to accept the invitation.  She does love to dine with Ribby, but she is just a teensy bit vexed since she herself was just about to invite Ribby to come her way for tea and that would have avoided one very crucial problem:  Just what is in the pie that Ribby is serving for tea?!  Because it might be….horrors!…mouse.  And Duchess decidedly does not want to eat mouse.  If she had succeeded in hosting the tea party herself, she would have served up a delicious veal and ham pie and avoided this complicated problem altogether.

Duchess sets to thinking about how to avoid eating that pie of Ribby’s, which she is more and more convinced will be mouse, without committing any social faux pas or hurting Ribby’s feelings.  At last she seizes on an idea, a swapping of pies, to be done hastily and covertly while Ribby dashes out for more party fare.  How Duchess accomplishes the switcheroo, then obliviously snarfs down Ribby’s mouse pie, is overcome with alarm over her fear that she’s swallowed a little metal patty pan, discovers the horrible truth of the pie, utterly throws Ribby into a tizzy of confusion…all this and more awaits you in this tremendously comic story.

I love Beatrix Potter, her wry humor, her forthright, unsentimental stories, her lovely vocabulary and style which stretch young minds, her elegant paintings and drawings that adorn the charming, tiny volumes in her collection.  This, one of her lesser-known  tales, is one of my favorites.  It’s a bit longer than some of her other stories, and requires readers/listeners to follow a tricky story-line, so it’s best reserved for slightly older children, perhaps ages 6 or 7 and up.  I’m afraid that Potter’s marvelous stories are falling off a lot of reading lists, and want to highly recommend them.  Unforgettable characters and hilarious social commentary shine through this one. Give it a try!

Archie, a (nearly) wordless story by Domenica More Gordon

Archie has just received a marvelous package.  It’s a sewing machine.  A nice sturdy model.  It sits in all its shiny black splendor on the table and inspires Archie to create something.  A piece of olive green fabric, some lovely swishing strokes with the scissors, and voila!  Archie’s little dog has a sporty green coat.  Doesn’t he cut a dashing figure as Archie takes him on a walk?

Along the way, they meet a friend with her little pug.  Oooh, but she thinks Archie’s handiwork is splendid.  Before you know it, Archie’s machine is whirring as he creates a simply darling floral number for the pug.

But now, as they walk their debonair dogs together, other dog owners and their charges are smitten with Archie’s creations.  Archie’s phone is ringing off the hook as orders pour in for his one-of-a-kind doggy styles.  Finally, when Archie has outfitted everyone in town, he settles in for a nice rest.  

But….ring ring!  There’s more in store for Archie.  This time, it’s matching doggy-owner outfits that are in demand, and wowzer does Archie ever come up with some brilliant pieces!  When all the orders are filled, Archie really, really needs a rest.  This time, he’ll voyage off to Greece, he thinks, beyond the reach of his phone, when…ring ring!

Oh my!  You will never guess who’s looking for Archie’s talents at the other end of the line!

Wordless except for a  few onomatopoeic entries, this story is masterfully illustrated.  Archie’s personality leaps from the pages.  His brilliant fashions cheerily parade across ample white space, and simple black lines convey necessary ideas clearly.  I love this happy, creative story from an Edinburgh-based artist, with its jolly good, surprise ending!

Here are Amazon links for all these arf-fully purr-fect stories!

Charley’s First Night
The Reader
Old Robert and the Sea-Silly Cats
The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan (Potter)