Bone Dog

Bone DogKnowing 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.
Robin Smith
Robin Smith
Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

Kathi Appelt

Hi everyone--just fyi, I have a video of Eric talking about this book on my blog: Enjoy. Kathi

Posted : Oct 18, 2011 08:55

Jennifer Costa

I think the mourning spread is the best part of this book, in the way that it illustrates the passing of time (leaves falling, grass and trees becoming more golden) and the process of grief (from being immobilized and completely alone to getting back out among the living, one foot in front of the other). Am I alone in finding the rest of the story to be a bit disjointed (ugh--sorry)?

Posted : Sep 28, 2011 06:48

KT Horning

For me the brilliance of this book is the understatement. This, coupled with the illustrations, allows readers to connect the dots. As an example of what I mean, look at the page spread of Gus mourning, as Robin pointed out, and the final illustrations that show dogs carrying off individual bones -- obviously from the skeletons. A dog with a bone is such a cliched image in popular culture, but we haven't ever seen them from this source before! That gives a bit of an edge to what otherwise might be a sentimental story. A fine piece of book-making, too, this is.

Posted : Sep 27, 2011 12:48


I think something that saves this book from being overly sentimental is that it is genuinely a little scary when those skeletons threaten to eat Gus. I liked, too, that Ella didn't save Gus, exactly, but gave him the strength to save himself. I thought it was an interesting way to explore the way those we have loved deeply can continue to influence us even after we're gone. In terms of the art, I love how fluid and active the illustrations are here, with time passing and all that running and the quivering skeletons. It's definitely a favorite of mine this year.

Posted : Sep 26, 2011 08:04

Margie Culver

Hello Robin: Being a dog lover and the human in Xena's life now, I can not say enough good things about this book. I would be happy to see it receive much notice by the Caldecott people. It would have my vote. Here is my review: Thank you for your review; you noticed a couple of things I did not. Happy Sunday, Margie

Posted : Sep 25, 2011 07:32


Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more


We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.