CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 36. . . .May 20, 2016
A Dog Day for Susan.
Maureen Fergus. Illustrated by Monica Arnaldo.
Toronto, ON: Owlkids Books, 2016.
32 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 3-6.
Review by Amber Allan.
After Spencer’s mom went back into the house, Spencer and Barney stretched out in the warm sunshine for a little snooze.
”That dog Susan doesn’t really sound like our kind of dog, does she Barney?” Spencer asked.
“Woof!” said Barney.
“You’re right!” said Spencer. “We should remember that underneath all that hair, Susan is probably just a regular dog.”
Spencer and his dog Barney are tentatively excited to learn that Great Aunt Alice is coming for a visit and bringing along her dog, Susan. While Susan sounds prim and proper and quite different from them, they are hopeful that they will have an enjoyable visit. After all, they assume, despite her looks, Susan must be a regular dog underneath it all. At first, the visit is fraught with difficulties. Great Aunt Alice treats Susan more like a human than a dog, and her eccentricities create many obstacles. When Spencer and Barney get permission to take Susan to the off leash dog park, they take it upon themselves to teach her how to behave like a regular dog, and Susan proceeds to have a messy, active day she’ll never forget.
Children will be drawn to the action-filled pictures and great storytelling in A Dog Day for Susan. Fergus brilliantly weaves in an interesting vocabulary, with words like “fervor” and “dignified” being perfectly situated in the text. The connection and comradery between the boy and his dog are established immediately without explicit description, and the story, itself, is very sweet. The soft lines and well-thought-out detail of Arnaldo’s accompanying art creates a charming total package. Susan the dog is a standout illustrated character, with her signature snooty head tilt.
In all honesty, I did have one issue with the underlying message of the story. While this is a beautifully illustrated and well-written book with mass appeal for children, the crux of the story is bothersome. One of the most wonderful aspects of children’s literature and storytelling is that we build empathy and learn lessons that are translatable to our own lives. Children are accustomed to gathering information from personified animals and objects, and to posit that there is one true way to be a dog, a “regular” dog, is disconcerting. If Susan enjoys quiet activities and having her fur brushed, she is no less a dog than Barney who wiggles at the first sign of grooming and likes to run wild. Likewise, there is no right way to be a child. We should look beyond the hair and skin colour and clothing of other people to find common interests, but we should not seek to “teach” those who are different how to be “regular”.
Amber Allen is a librarian in Toronto, ON, with a passion for children’s literature and writing.
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