Friday, January 30, 2009

Annie's Monster
Barbara Corcoran
1990, Atheneum

When an Irish Wolfhound breeder finds that one of her adolescent dogs has a minor but possibly genetic flaw, she gives him to a local girl as a pet. Ian Flanagan of Wild Rose Farm is friendly, enthusiastic and huge. Annie MacDougal is well-intentioned, but the big puppy easily frees himself of her grasp on their first walk together and frightens neighborhood children, the first in a long line of confrontations between Annie's dog and the people of her small Massachusets town. With her father the Episcopal minister, Annie's under great pressure to behave, and Flanagan's behavior threatens all that. To make matters worse, Flanagan discovers a mentally ill homeless woman, whose situation is a direct reproach to Rev. MacDougal's position on charity.

Awkwardly written, with dueling plot points clearly meant to be complimentary (misunderstood dog, misunderstood human) but which compete for sparse resources from a writer who seems intent on making obvious points - it's wrong to fear the mentally ill, big dogs are clumsy. The language is bare, without challenge or beauty.

On a dog-owner's point-of-view, the plot concerning Annie's brave battle to keep her pet rings false. Annie and her family are repeatedly unable/unwilling to control their dog's actions - letting go of the leash, allowing the dog to jump into a neighbor's yard, etc. - and yet are outraged and self-righteous when people complain and rally to have the MacDougals forced to pen the dog.

This is a classic animal story. The villains are all ugly Americans, the loathsome middle-class neighbors. The heroes are the wealthy breeder and the poor/noble Episcopal minster and his family. A moment late in the book, when the breeder threatens to sue the town if it bans Flanagan, sums it up:

They resented Mrs. Meyers - her money, her threat to sue, her power. Annie could feel it all over the room.

The dog story disappoints. Flanagan is seen very vaguely, and Annie's relationship with him is flat, uninvolving and unconvincing. The dog is clearly a vehicle for the wider story of father/daughter, parson/homeless, outsider/town themes.

I've enjoyed other Corcoran books. This one, however, is too busy for it's own good. Too many plots, too much bare-bones writing and far too much blatant preaching.

Other Books (dog)
Sasha, My Friend
Me And You And A Dog Named Blue

Other Books (horse)
A Horse Named Sky

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sociable Toby
Eleanor Clymer, il. Ingrid Fetz
1956, E.M. Hale & Company

Miss Emma Dusenberry has seen her quiet neighborhood torn away, the big old houses destroyed and replaced by new ranchers, until her big Victorian is the only one left. And she's the only older person left in a landscape of children and younger couples. Lonely yet tired of answering the door for children whose toys have flown into her yard and listening to the sounds of families, she decides to buy a dog.

It must not be too big and not too small...I want a watchdog to bark when people come to the door. But I don't want one that will bite children.

A reasonable list, and one that I favor myself. But like all dog buyers, she forgets to factor in at least one trait. In her choice of bright-eyed, medium-sized, barky but kindly Toby, what she doesn't realize is that he's a sociable sort of dog, more prone to bringing people to her than to keeping people away. It all ends well, of course, during a blizzard when Miss Dusenberry's outdated old house provides shelter for the new people let down by their snazzy new ranchers.

Written in a simple and engaging style with a very basic sentence structure. Beautifully illustrated by Fetz's warm, personable drawings. She executes the tricky maneuver of giving a black dog's shaggy face personality and vivacity, and her simple portraits of people fit the writing style nicely.

Ingrid Fetz based her drawings on her own Kerry Blue Terrier (also named Toby), although the fictional Toby's breed is never mentioned.

About the Author
Eleanor Lowenton Clymer
January 7, 1906-April 3, 2001

Clymer wrote over 50 books for children, including five picture books starring an irascible orange cat named Horatio and The Trolley Car Family. The du Grummond collection of children's literature at the University of Southern Mississippi contains some of her papers and manuscripts.

Du Grummond Library

Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Dog, Trip
Deborah Kogan Ray, author and illustrator
1987, Holiday House

Trip got to be my best friend in the whole world. He help me with my chores. And he always want to play with me. Every day, he's waitin' for me when the school bus lets me off.

A picture book about a little girl and her beloved dog, and how he disappears one day.

I hate books with a southern flair for the coal mines. I loathe them. All the authentic voice and good old-fashioned workin' man values make me squirm. It's not that I long for yet another book set in Manhattan with an upper-middle-class protaganist, but I grew up blue-collar and I can't help suspecting that the author is faking it with all the 'hollers' and 'ain't's and dropped g's everywhere. And that said, I like this book. The illustrations are beautiful, the story is simple and just right, and the ending is satisfying.

Trip - mix, looks like a small setter/hound/retriever mix

Author Info
Ray was educated at Philadelphia's venerable art school, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Author Website

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Dog To Trust: The Saga Of A Seeing-Eye Dog
Joseph E. Chipperfield, il. Larry Toschik
1963, David McKay Company, Inc.

London artist Ralph Hardy is on vacation in Exmoor when he meets gentleman farmer John Ash and German Shepherd (or Alsation) puppy Arno. An accident with Marian Ash and a horse injures Ralph, who ends up being cared for by the Ash family for a few days. They all like him and he seems to like them, but after he returns home he fails to keep up the friendship. John Ash, uneasy about the tone of his one brief letter, visits the younger man in London and discovers he's gone blind. There is a chance his vision can be restored through rest and careful use, but the young artist needs to use his eyes to make a living. Troubled by this dire situation, John Ash decides that his family can donate Arno, who is now a healthy young dog, to be trained as a guide dog for Ralph.

There are two unusual notes struck in this look at a blind person/guide dog pairing. First, that Marian grieves for Arno, wishing that the happy animal need not be chained in service to a blind man. She's fond of Ralph, but the dog's sheer joy in living makes it seem to her that walking quietly in harness will be a desecration. She gradually accepts the idea, and Arno is portrayed as being mostly happy as a guide dog, but there's a lingering sense of it being unfair to the dog. Another unusual note is that the pairing of man and dog is accomplished quite easily and rapidly; the trust issues that are usually a huge part of a guide dog story are absent. Trust or lack of it emerges elsewhere, as Ralph is a diffident, remote personality that finds companionship and friendliness difficult. He has to be virtually kidnapped to consent to accepting Ash's overtures, has a hard time at the guide school, and fails to establish any relationship with the locals when he comes to live in Exmoor, leading to a harsh confrontation over a misunderstanding.

Arno - German Shepherd/Alsation


Other Books
Greatheart, The Salvation Hunter
Petrus, Dog of the Hill Country
Storm Of Dancerwood
Windruff Of Links Tor
The Grey Dog From Galtymore
Seeko, of the Black Wind
Grey Chieftain

About the Illustrator

Larry Toschik, born in 1922, is an Arizona wildlife artists who has worked at Arizona Highways magazine and at Arizona State University's Bureau of Publications.


Coyote, Come Home by B. E. Beebe

Right, Light Buck, Run! by B. E. Beebe

Greeka, Eagle Of The Hebrides by Joseph E. Chipperfield

Jennie's Mandan Bowl by Lyla Hoffine

Objibway Drums by Marian W. Magoon

The House Of Peace by Louisa A. Dyer

Steel Dust, Stallion Of The Grand Canyon by Charley C. Niehuis

The Sky Train by Oren Arnold

Rawhide Johnny by Neta Lohnes Frazier


Animals Of The Arctic by Alfred Powers

Wild White Wings by Emily Watson Hallin

Follow The Honey Bird by Emily Watson Hallin

Cowboys And Cattlemen by Lela and Rufus Waltrip

Meeting In The Mountains by John B. Prescott

Trails Of His Own: The Story of John Muir by Adrienne Grossman

Building A State In Apache Land by Charles D. Poston


Russell Fink Gallery