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A Very Unusual Dog

by Dorothy Joan Harris, Kim LaFave, illus.

Inspired by her own children when they were young, Toronto author Dorothy Joan Harris tells the story of a young boy named Jonathan and his imaginary pet, named Dog, who likes to eat toast crumbs, watch TV, and walk in the park. Jonathan’s practical big sister Elizabeth constantly reminds him that Dog isn’t real, but Jonathan doesn’t care. One day he brings Dog along to visit his Grandma and ends up leaving Dog behind to keep her company.

In this charming story about the gift of imagination and the importance of tolerance and sharing, Jonathan and his sister seem like real characters, with conversations that ring true. For example:

“Dog?” said Elizabeth. “Hasn’t he even got a proper name?”
“Yes. He’s called Dog,” said Jonathan.
“Well, if you’re going to drag that silly thing along, I’m not walking with you,” said Elizabeth.

She ends up walking in front, with their mother behind her, and Jonathan and Dog behind them both.

The skillful illustrations by B.C. artist Kim LaFave (who won the Governor General’s Award for illustration for Amos’s Sweater) are in perfect harmony with this sweet story. There is a nostalgic 1950s look to these images, rendered in a warm palette dominated by ochre. Although LaFave added colour to his pencil compositions digitally, the illustrations look as if they were painted in acrylic or oil with rich glazes. Many have a child’s perspective, with adults and other tall objects cut off at a child’s-eye level, giving readers the feeling that they are viewing the action as it unfolds.

Recommended for both home and school libraries, A Very Unusual Dog is an enchanting picture book with gentle lessons.