CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 1 . . . . September 8, 2017
Boy wants dog. Boy finds dog that can't be his. Dog is adopted from the animal shelter by someone else, and boy can only visit dog's new home intermittently. But the dream of ownership stays strong.
An unusual variant of the 'hoping for a pet' trope, Hey, Boy tells of a child longing to grow bigger so that he can finally have a dog of his own to look after. Play with a friendly stray results in the boy's sustaining a broken arm, and so it's off to the shelter for this likeable-looking mutt. The boy thinks of going to see him there, but dog has been adopted. Then the kind new owners sends a letter inviting the boy to visit.
The years are clearly passing, and the boy grows to young adulthood. Mature concerns have taken over much of life, but the dog, who is growing older too, is never far from the central character's thoughts.
When a letter arrives from the owners saying that they now feel past being able to care for the dog, the young man speeds away in his little car.
Author Benjamin Strouse is an American producer and composer, and this spare text marks his picturebook debut. The Canadian connection comes in the artwork of Toronto illustrator Jennifer Phelan. It is rendered with digitally-colored pen-and-ink drawings in a muted palette. Human and animal figures stand out on a white ground, and just a few lines convey a lot of feeling. The dogs behind the cage bars at the shelter near the start of the book and the disembodied hands throwing mortarboards into the air marking the boy's graduation are especially evocative. And it is surprising how the longed-for dog, sometimes little more than a blob with four legs and bright eyes, has so much life.
There's a little bit of Love You Forever here, with the aging of a small boy and a lively puppy into young man and a grizzled and failing adult dog who maintain a strong bond with each other over years. A book for larger primary collections.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children's librarian living in Coquitlam, BC.