Knowing the mortality rate of dogs in books, it’s no surprise that turning the translucent cover of the title page reveals a “bone dog.” Using very thick black outlined panels and water colored relief prints, Rohmann tells a story of grief and canine loyalty on one Halloween night.
The close connection between Gus and Ella is clear right from the joyous opening spread. When Ella makes a promise under the full moon, boy and dog are slightly separated, foreshadowing the full separation to come. After Ella is gone, Gus’s grief is shown in the panels where he is barely getting through everyday tasks. Trick-or-treating does not help, despite the full bag of candy. Smack dab in the middle of the left hand graveyard spread, Gus’s aloneness is almost unbearable, especially when framed by those foreboding headstones and horizon lines.
The pacing of the story is just right—not lingering in the graveyard too long, but not rushing Gus’s grieving either. The wordless chase scene—three full spreads—is humorously punctuated with the wiener dog carrying one of the skeleton’s bones home. The last page, bisected by a white path, shows Gus, protected by the rest of the bone-toting pack, on his way home. The lights in the windows let us know his encounter with Ella (and perhaps the funny chase) has moved him from grief to healing.
While I don’t know if Bone Dog will lead the pack in January, I do think it’s one the committee will discuss, at least for a while.
What do you all think? Does this tug on your heartstrings too much? Do you think the art reflects the emotion of the story correctly? How does this stack up against the other poignant books we have talked about already (Grandpa Green, Wonderstruck)?
PS An aside: I was trying to find the right words to describe the art and ended up on the Macmillan website. The boy’s name is listed as Sam, which has obviously been changed to Gus. See how things change? I wondered aloud and my husband, ever the quick word guy, quietly noted, “Well, then it would have been Sam and Ella, dangerously close to ‘salmonella.'” Indeed.