Black Dog by Levi Pinfold
Levi Pinfold, who's work is new to me, immediately strikes me as one of those illustrator/authors who could write a story about anything and his amazing artwork would carry it along, no matter what the subject matter. I'll be honest, I didn't know what to make of Black Dog the first time I opened it. But, being the owner of two black dogs, one of which came to us as a big, ferocious looking stray, I wanted to love this book. I found myself poring over the book, letting the illustrations tell the story, not reading the words at all my first time through. Pindfold's style immediately calls to mind the magnificent Shaun Tan, creator of the amazing wordless graphic novel, The Arrival. There are so many details to take in with every illustration and on the pages where text appears, Pinfold has added six more small illustrations in panels, like a graphic novel. Finally, after several readings without reading the words, I sat down and read Black Dog.
And it is wonderful! Both the story and Pinfold's writing! The book begins, "One day, a black dog came to visit the Hope family. Mr Hope was the first to see it." Looking out the window, Mr Hope is stricken. He calls the police to tell them that there is a black dog the size of a tiger in his front yard. The police caution him not to go outside. Mrs Hope, Adeline and Maurice Hope also all have encounters with the big black dog outside and, like a folk or fairy tale, each family member describes the black dog as being increasingly enormous. The family hides in fear, but the youngest member of the family, "called Small (for short)" puts on her parka and heads out the door to see about this black dog.
This has to be one of THE BEST picture book illustrations I have seen in a while! After being snuffed by the beast, Small tells the black dog that he will have to catch her if he wants to eat her and she takes off running. As she speeds over the snowy terrain, she sings a little song to the beast telling him he "can't follow where I go, unless you shrink, or don't you know?"
Singing and teasing, the dog chases Small through the neighborhood, getting smaller every second so that he can follow her under bridges and through playgrounds (another fantastic illustration) until they return to the Hope house and both tumble through the cat flap. Hiding him under a laundry basket, she shows her family that the black dog is "not that fierce at all," showing her family that there was nothing to be scared of at all.
No doubt, Black Dog seems like a simple story, and, while it works perfectly well on that level, making this a superb read-out-loud for the littlest listeners. However, Pinfold weaves so much more into his text (rhymes, a narrator who notes the lack of rhymes at ideal times, and a "Big Jeffy," which Maurice compares the black dog to although will not reveal exactly what a Big Jeffy is...) and employs melodic words like scuttled, guffin, and lowering, making this book a keepsake. Black Dog is a book that young readers will remember well into adulthood and want to read to their own children.