Rating: 5 stars
The Blue House Dog, written by Deborah Blumenthal and illustrated by Adam Gustavson, is a picture book that will be appreciated by children aged five and older. Adults will enjoy the beautifully created illustrations and the carefully crafted prose that accompanies each picture.
The free verse is wisely and elegantly constructed to tell the story with a combination of facts, metaphor and feelings. Just as carefully created are the illustrations. They don’t just illustrate the story; they combine seamlessly with the text to create a touching, lovely package.
Bones, the stray dog, lived with an old man in a “house painted ocean blue.” He was there when the man died, and then he escaped and has been living on the streets since. “On a gray day in winter, they start to tear down the blue house, with Bone’s old life inside. Now he’ll have even less than he had before.”
The boy in the story has a loss of his own to deal with. His own beloved dog died and he misses him. “When you lose someone who’s as close as your own skin, the only place you can find him again is hidden inside your memories.”
The boy and the dog, both lonely, both sad, slowly find each other and, in the end, make each other whole again. “There are no stray dogs around here now. Blue likes it that way, and so do I.”
This touching story was inspired by the true story of a stray dog in Astoria, Queens (New York). The dog wandered the neighborhood, named by different people and fed by families, until finally a rescuer captured the dog, treated it for worms, and found it a permanent safe home.
The illustrator shared with me some thoughts about the book. “The Blue House Dog story was so quiet, and Deborah’s choice of language did such a great job of establishing a mood, it seemed even more befitting to zoom out here and there and make an image about the time of day, or to grab images from her text and make them metaphors for some greater theme (the daffodils that bloom, wilt, and return throughout the book, for instance).”
He also said, “In the Blue House Dog paintings, I wanted the neighborhood, the elm trees, and the dappled little bits of suburban sunlight to be characters too, and being allowed to take that approach in the pictures can give the the story freedom to sort of float over everything.”
A wonderful gift for anyone aged five to adult–dog lovers of all ages will enjoy this story of love and friendship and overcoming loss. No bookshelf should be without it.