The story is so tightly constructed there’s almost no room for interpretation, and I like that. The vigorous pen-and-ink art leaves a lot of white space on the page, with just occasional washes of color, adding to a sense that the book is a straightforward puzzle you’re solving with visual clues, like the colors of the balls that belong to each dog. Of course, there’s an overarching fantasy element — the girl appears to live with no parents and no adult figures intrude on her decision-making. But isn’t that one of the best things dogs can give kids, a sense of their own power?
The delightful comics-style GOOD ROSIE! (Candlewick, 40 pp., $16.99; ages 4 to 8), written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Harry Bliss, stars a little white and brown terrier named Rosie. She has a pleasant daily routine with her owner, George, but she doesn’t have any dog friends, so she’s lonely. (You suspect George, a fussily dressed older gentleman with a balding dome of a head, may be lonely too.) One day, George takes Rosie to the dog park, where a St. Bernard named Maurice tries to befriend her. Rosie feels he’s too big and loud. Then an irritatingly “small, yippy” dog named Fifi arrives. Again, no. Rosie is lonely even at the dog park. But a mishap occurs: Maurice almost swallows tiny Fifi. After Rosie delivers a strategic bite on the leg, Maurice coughs Fifi back up. She is fine, though her collar now says “Fif.” Is friendship possible after all that? You bet! The newly renamed Fif leads the way, asking Rosie directly, “Do you want to be friends with a dog named Fif?” The final page shows a grinning George looking on as the dog friends play — and he’s flanked by two ladies who must be the owners of Fif and Maurice.
DiCamillo, whose many books include the Newbery Medal-winning “The Tale of Despereaux,” packs an emotional punch in picture books, chapter books or novels, and Bliss is a wry New Yorker cartoonist and the author-illustrator of the sophisticated picture books “Grace for Gus” and “Luke on the Loose.” Together they’ve created a remarkable guide to making friends: Be honest and direct about what you want, and don’t bite. “Good Rosie!” is divided into eight sections, like mini-chapters, slowing down the pace and making it not just a good read-aloud but a fantastic choice for newly independent readers.
Marla Frazee’s LITTLE BROWN (Beach Lane, 32 pp., $17.99; ages 4 to 8), a parable about a dog with no friends who hoards all the toys at the dog park, is an unusual dog book in that it’s frankly dark, beginning with the muddy colors and foreboding look of its tall pages. Frazee, the creator of “Boss Baby” and many other brilliantly funny and pointed picture books, is not so much offering a lesson as challenging her audience to do better, be more just and kind, figure out how everyone can get a fair share. The dog named Little Brown begins the book “cranky” and alienated, and at the end he’s still cranky and alienated, only he’s sitting atop a pile of treasure. Two questions linger: Is he lonely because he’s greedy, or is he greedy because he’s lonely? And how can we fix a situation like this, where a tyrant calls the shots? “Maybe tomorrow they would know what to do,” the book ends. In 2018 America it’s hard to take that as hopeful, but I’m trying.