Review – Sad, the dog

Sad,the dogTrying new things can be an exciting, daunting and ultimately rewarding experience. Just ask Sandy Fussell, author of the acclaimed Samurai Kids series. She is venturing into the fastidious and fascinating world of picture book writing and I have to say, has come up trumps.

TogetheSandy Fussellr with illustrator, Tull Suwannakit, Fussell has brought to life one of the most endearing little dog tales I’ve read in a while. Sad, the dog is a title immediately provoking thought and possibly interpretation as nothing more than a smaltzy, over-sentimental excuse for a cry. It does in fact start a little unhappily at least for poor pooch, Sad so named because his well-meaning but blatantly non-dog-people owners, Mr and Mrs Cripps neglect to give him an identity of his own.

Tull SuwannakitSad receives the basics from them but in spite of his doggedness to impress them with his dogginess, he is largely ignored and tragically unloved. Then they up and go, and leave, without him!

Misery and loneliness pile up around Sad like mounds of autumn leaves until a little boy named, Jack enters his life. Jack is patient and kind and is exactly the sort of little boy Sad needs. Ever so slowly, Sad learns to like his new situation and especially Jack, so much so that he re-discovers his inner dog and a new whisper in his heart that helps him banish his sad moniker forever.

Sad, the dog is a picture book that invites repeated readings because each time you do, you will fall in deeper in love with the indomitable black and white canine and comically drawn characters.

Sad dog illo spreadSad represents the unquestionable loyalty and willingness to please that dogs possess and suggests that they experience the same sense of rejection and loss as keenly as humans do. When Sad’s beliefs are shattered and abandoned, it takes him a while to forget his fears and learn to be brave enough to try that ‘something new’ again. However, with the help of a new friend, he does. Sometimes, that’s all it takes; a special someone to tease the real you back out into the open again.

I love this intimation and heart-warming message that permeates throughout this picture book, and is captured so beautifully by Suwannakit’s glorious watercolour illustrations. Muted tones, appealing detail and ridiculously funny characterisation (I was reminded of Gru from Despicable Me at times) provide plenty of balance and personality, and exude love in an otherwise sad tale about an unwanted dog.

Sad eventually finds love after hiding beneath his pile of unhappiness. It is red and wonderful (and incidentally the colour of Jack’s hair and the falling leaves) and is anything but sad. You and young readers from the age of three onwards will feel it too whether dog lovers or not. Highly recommended.

Fellow blogger, Romi Sharp is interviewing Sandy Fussell, soon. Be sure not to miss her revelations and insight into Sad’s creation.

Walker Books August 2015

 

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – JAGUAR WARRIOR

In our house, reading is a big thing. I love that my boys love books and I love that family discussions take place at our dinner table about what is the latest ‘must read’.

I love that even though he is eleven, my son and I can snuggle up on the couch together before bed, and read a book like Jaguar Warrior.

I even love it that he got impatient and went ahead and finished the book before me.  That’s how engrossed he was with the story of Jaguar Warrior, and when you read it, you’ll see why.

The book’s hero, Atl has been imprisoned in a box for seven days and is waiting to die. He is about to be sacrificed to the bloodthirsty Mexica gods, but Atl has a strong heart and he refuses to give up.

When he is unexpectedly released and sent on a mission, it’s not the mission that has him running, it’s the chance of freedom.

But he has to stay one step ahead of his mortal enemy, The Captain. The Captain believes that Mexica will fall if the Serpent-Sun god is not appeased by a sacrifice. The Captain is determined to bring Atl back to fulfil that role.

Atl’s travelling companion, Lali fears The Captain – and for reasons that are revealed in the story, she should know him better than anyone. Lali says The Captain is “more terrifying than the armies of Spain and Mexica marching together.”

The tension and pace of this story keep you turning the pages, but for me, it was the well drawn characters and vivid detail that kept me reading when there were many other jobs I should have been doing.

Here’s an example of the evocative narrative – Atl is eating tortillas.

Eyes closed, I listen to my stomach purr. Old men say the jaguar spirit lives in a young warrior’s heart, but when I listen to my gut grown with contentment, I know that’s where the big cat crouches. And it likes corn cakes.

Humour and a strong character voice also endeared me to Atl and made me eager to know his fate.

The tension of the story is enhanced by the dual narrative. The point of view alternates between Atl and his foe, The Captain. The reader is given information that neither character knows and this also helps build up the suspense.

Set in Aztec times, Jaguar Warrior is a work of fiction but it has been so meticulously researched that I felt like I had stepped into the story.

Jaguar Warrior is Sandy Fussell’s sixth published book and she is fast becoming known for her fast-paced but beautifully descriptive historical fiction works. Sandy is the author of Polar Boy (shortlisted for a 2009 CBCA Award) and the Samurai Kid’s Books: White Crane, Owl Ninja, Shaolin Tiger and Monkey Fist.

Both my sons can’t wait to read the fifth Samurai Kid’s Books, and I’ll be eagerly waiting with them in the queue.