With a text so simple it could be an easy reader, Monica Carnesi tells the true story of a dog who got stuck on an ice flow in Poland’s Vistula River, swept out to the open sea, and rescued two days later. I am hoping this outwardly simple book will catch the committee’s attention. The straightforward approach is artless in the best sense — but also in the sense that it requires a closer look to see how perfectly it uses the picture book form.
No one knows what brought this dog to his predicament, but the title and dedication pages show him running through woods full of red squirrels until he finds a stick on the frozen river. Carnesi’s line art and watercolor perfectly convey the freezing temperatures and the vastness of Dog’s predicament. Emotion runs high in both text and art, but the author wisely allows the story to speak for itself. There are no embellishments of palette or extreme close-ups of a worried dog. Instead, she uses the very horizontal spreads to accentuate the fastness of the moving water and the hopelessness of Dog’s situation. The fact that he remains far away makes the reader long for a close-up view and his safety. We can see just enough of his expression — first confused, then resigned — and his body language tells us the rest. Dog’s stiff front legs braced against the snowy surface of the ice are all we need to feel the treacherous motion of the waves.
Although Dog’s rescue begins halfway through the book, by then the reader is completely invested in his predicament and peril, making the last few spreads showing a warm, content dog aboard ship all the sweeter. I challenge all dog lovers not to feel a little weepy when he finds and “thanks” his savior. For me, this is a perfect example of the sum being greater than the parts. Simply told text, subtle art, and perfect pacing are combined with a gripping story that might seem unlikely but is, in fact, true.
This is Carnesi’s first book and it hasn’t made a big splash in terms of stars. But it’s the kind of quiet book the committee, who is reading everything with an eye toward detail, might be able to discover. What do you think?