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Review of the Day: Let’s Have a Dog Party! by Mikela Prevost

LetsHaveDogPartyLet’s Have a Dog Party!
By Mikela Prevost
Viking (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
ISBN: 978-0-451-48117-7
Ages 4-7
On shelves March 19th

Do you remember the book Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman? It’s one of my favorites. The whole thing is just a series of random encounters between various dogs. There’s no storyline (aside from the infamous “Do you like my hat” sequence) but that doesn’t mean the tale doesn’t build. At the end you see huge numbers of dogs going up a tree. Why? What is at the top of the tree? “It’s a dog party!” And what a party it is too. Everything you could possibly want in a crazy cacophony of wild, wonderful pandemonium is up there. A person could be forgiven for getting confused. Perhaps these are the kinds of parties dogs prefer. Ipso facto, if you were to throw a party for a canine, wouldn’t you want to crank the craziness up to eleven? In her debut picture book, Mikela Prevost dares to question what happens when we thrust our own wants and needs upon others without their consent. Maybe some dogs like wild parties, but not all dogs are the same. Some dogs are a bit quieter. Some dogs are like Frank.

On the whole, Frank has it pretty good. A nice owner. A pleasant warm spot where he can nap. Everything’s peachy keen and right with the universe. “But not today”. Today Frank’s owner Kate has decided to throw him the birthday party of a lifetime with all her friends. Frank, needless to say, is not ready for this. Not ready for all his favorite things to be wrapped up. For the singing that hits decibels no dog’s ears were ever meant to hear. And definitely not ready for the game of hide n’ seek he inadvertently just started. When, at last, Kate finally looks at Frank and sees how he feels about everything, she stops the party immediately. Friends are sent home, and apologies are made. Because, for Frank, the best kind of party in the kind where he can cuddle up with the girl he loves in the warm spot he craves.

LetsDogParty1I dunno, man. I think I’ve just discovered a really weird fact about myself. Apparently I have a picture book type. A sort of book that creates in me this weird sort of adoration and fascination and that I share with no one else on this planet. What kind of book might that be? Picture books that feature animals that stare into the void with the damned eyes of the already lost. Last year the goldfish, Walter, in Ryan Higgins’s brilliant We Don’t Eat Our Classmates took the prize. This year, it’s Frank here. Look at this cover. Look deeply into Frank’s eyes. There’s not a soul alive that would tell you that Frank is having a good time. Throw all the confetti you want, but this is a dog in hell. It’s all in the art.

Using watercolor, acryla gouache, colored pencils, and just a hint of collage, Prevost sets the tone straight away. One of the things I admired the most about this book was Prevost’s ability to balance her illustrations ever so carefully on the cusp of the grotesque without fully falling in. The children in this book are purposefully exaggerated. Their mouths are just a little too wide. Their teeth a little too prominent. When they move it’s in this frenzied cloud of confetti and balloons, like little maenads tearing after a fawn. A scene of the kids singing a very loud rendition of “Happy Birthday” is particularly keen, with the children’s heads stretching and becoming gaping maws of tonsils and tongues. The natural instinct on the part of the reader would be to identify with the children, but thanks in large part to this art, all sympathies are fully with Frank. When he wants to escape the hullaballoo, even the most wired child reader won’t be able to help but understand the instinct.

LetsDogParty2Studies have been done on the number of “classic” children’s picture books, comparing words created by author/illustrators that were one person vs. books where the author was separate from the artist. Often, it’s the artist with a keen ear for wordplay and timing that remains remembered. If I were to highlight four pages that best display this particular author’s ability to wrangle the art just so, it would be when Kate and her friends tell Frank, “We need to get you ready!” They descend on the left page, and in a silent sequence put him in party gear in the right-hand side. Turn the page and you have a confetti-covered dog with three balloons (from the local Burger Hut, no less), ribbons, and a party hat. He stands there in shock. His pupils have dilated to mere points in his head. On the opposite page it reads, “Frank was not ready for this.” I hear you, man. I hear you. To properly present this kind of a sequence, its effectiveness must come in large part from Ms. Prevost’s pacing, timing, and knowledge of where to put the silent beats. A picture book is a work of visual narrative. To create a good one, you need a sense of comic and dramatic timing. Let’s Have a Dog Party! has this kind of timing in droves.

The Kirkus review actually put its finger right smack down on what it is about this book that I admire so much. As they said, “Empathy for others is currently a hot topic, skillfully and humorously explored here with a candid look at the feelings and preferences of someone without a voice.” Too often are pets the victims of their child owners. My family has a story about their Labrador. One day the mom could hear it whimpering in one of the rooms in a kind of odd way. She walked in, and there was her baby, merrily gnawing with its sharp little teeth, on the pads of the poor dog’s feet. Not knowing how to escape without harming the child, the dog just sat there in near silence. It is the perceptive child that can realize the consequences their actions may have on their four-legged best friends. In this book, once she sees the error of her ways, Kate models just the kind of empathy we’d like to see in all our children. She’s a great guide (and honestly, who amongst us can seriously say we haven’t been in her shoes before?) for kids and adults alike. You might want to glance more than once at this book before throwing that going away party the co-worker that really and honestly did not want you to throw one for them. This book is the kind of keeper I’d like to read to my kids over and over again. Good for kids. Great for dogs.

On shelves March 19th.

Source: Galley sent by publisher.

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.