Rating: 5 stars
“Sad, the Dog” by Sandy Fussell and illustrated by Tull Suwannakit is a book that will touch the heart of even the most jaded reader. This is the story that those who rescue unwanted animals hear daily — the story of an unwanted dog (“an unwanted Christmas present from a friend”) who lives a life of loneliness. The poor dog doesn’t even have a name until he names himself Sad. And sad he is. When his owners yell at him for singing, for digging, for living. When they call him “Hey, you!” and “Dog.” And no one loves him, no one pets him, no one interacts with him. He lives alone in the yard until the day they move out with all their belongings — except for Sad.
He is alone in the yard with no one to feed him or give him water. Unlike real-life tragic stories, he doesn’t have to wait weeks, slowly starving to death, until someone finds him. A new family moves in the next day. In the family is a young boy named Jack.
Here the author does something quite wonderful and quite realistic. She doesn’t have Jack befriend the dog immediately, but rather slowly. Sad is afraid and wary. He hides behind the trash can. And wisely, Jack give him time to adjust to the new family. He gives the dog fresh water and dog treats and a soft bed on the porch. And over a special treat of a breakfast sausage, they become friends. And Sad gets a new name. A very appropriate new name. The best name of all: Lucky. If you don’t get a tear in your eye at the ending of this story — you don’t have a heart.
The illustrations are worth a special mention. They are beautifully rendered in watercolor, and the nasty visages of the cruel owners contrast beautifully with the joy in Jack’s face when he and Lucky are together. Suwannakit also manages to create a dog that is no particular breed, but vaguely reminiscent of a pit bull – the most abandoned and abused breed of dogs. He creates a dog whose simple rendering evokes the misery he experiences at the start of the book and the happiness at the end.
This book is a must for any dog lover and every library. The worst part? Trying to read it to children without getting choked up at the end.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Candlewick Press, for review purposes.