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Sean O'Huigin. Designed and illustrated by Phil Mcleod.

Windsor, Black Moss Press, c1982.
Distributed by Firefly.
unpaged, paper, $4.95.
ISBN 0-88753-088-5.

Grades 4-6.
Reviewed by Gudrun Wight.

Volume 12 Number 3
1984 May

This is an unusual book, based on an elusive black-and-white street dog who "stole the hearts of everyone she encountered in Windsor." Apparently her owner had become too old to look after her, and she had learned to fend for herself, cadging meals on a regular round of the best restaurants. No ordinary dog, she seemed to conspire with traffic lights to evade the dog catcher.

The narrator, sitting in the park or walking downtown, begins to hear a voice when no one is around except Pickles, the stray dog. After several such experiences, the man realizes that the voice is indeed that of the dog, talking softly or even singing to him, depending on whether her day is dismal or happy. Pickles expresses in poetry the precarious existence of a street dog and what may well be its ambivalent emotions: on the one hand, enjoyment of its freedom, and on the other, a longing to return to the love and protection of a human being. There is no plot, only a sequence of incidents as the narrator, in simple prose, relates his repeated encounters with Pickles. As he becomes better acquainted with the dog, he weaves background information about her unobtrusively into his account. Prose and poetry alternate throughout the book as the narrator and the dog take turns in the development of the tale.

The book is attractively designed, with good quality paper and interesting illustrations in black and white and pastel blues and greens. The pictures convey the charm of this engaging dog and are well coordinated with the text. The print is clear, but no capital letters are employed throughout the book. No commas or periods are used in the poetry, but the prose sections are punctuated. I was sorry to see that the binding of my review copy, after some ten circulations, is beginning to come apart, but wide margins permit rebinding.

Though I liked the book myself, the thin story line and the avoidance of capital letters made me dubious about recommending this title for a children's library. Therefore, I tested it on a random sampling of eight Calgary youngsters, aged pre-school to sixteen. Results indicated that the book is suitable for children aged nine to twelve who like to read and are fond of animals. Without exception, the children liked the alternation of prose and poetry, which helped them to identify the speaker and "added a good effect." They found the pictures appealing, although several would have preferred brighter colours. The lack of plot disappointed the majority, but to my surprise, not one of the children objected to the exclusively lower-case type.

Although this book will not interest every child, I feel it has a place in school and public libraries if budgets permit. It is a sensitive and original book, with real empathy in its portrayal of the street dog.

Gudrun Wight, Faculty of Education, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.
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