Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Wednesday, June 27, 2018: Maximum Shelf: Good Rosie!

Candlewick Press: Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss

Candlewick Press: Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss

Candlewick Press: Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss

Candlewick Press: Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss

Good Rosie!

by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Harry Bliss

Author/illustrator duo Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss triumph again with Good Rosie!, a comic-format picture book about finding (and making) new (doggie) friends.

"Rosie is a good dog." The Jack Russell Terrier lives with a man named George and has a nice, predictable routine: they get up in the morning and eat two poached eggs (George) and kibble from a silver bowl (Rosie). After breakfast they take a walk and look at clouds. "George thinks that most clouds look like presidents. Rosie thinks that most clouds look like squirrels." This life is pleasant, but Rosie is a bit lonely. Every morning when she finishes her kibble she sees the reflection of "another" dog staring back at her. "Hello!" ("Ruff!") she says. Alas, the other dog never answers.

When George announces they are going to try something new, Rosie is curious but wary. She is, after all, a creature of habit. And when this "something new" turns out to be a visit to a dog park, Rosie is pretty sure she's not interested. "Rosie does not like the dog park. There are too many dogs. She doesn't know any of them. It makes Rosie feel lonely to look at so many strange dogs. And a little bit afraid." A huge St. Bernard with a blue plush toy approaches her: "My name is, uh, Maurice," he says. "And I have a bunny." He tries to entice Rosie to play by shaking his stuffed bunny. "He shakes it very, very hard." Rosie, not impressed, is a little nervous. "I want to go home," she tells George, although it comes out as "Woof!"

Next a tiny "something"--a Chihuahua?--bounces toward Rosie. She's "a very small dog with a very sparkly collar" and she seems very pleased to meet Rosie. "I'm Fifi! I'm Fifi!" she yips. "It says Fifi right on my collar! See? My name is spelled out in shiny stones." A full-page panel shows giant Maurice holding his bunny down, preparing to pounce, and Fifi leaping into the air, barking. Rosie hides under a bench, looking forlorn.

A near-disastrous attempt by Maurice to play with Fifi finally breaks the awkward dynamic among the threesome, as Rosie discovers that Maurice, in spite of his size, is vulnerable and Fifi, in spite of her size, is brave and strong. None of them has a clear idea of how to make friends. But Fifi, who has lost three of the shiny stones on her collar in the melee, rendering her name "Fif," simply asks Rosie: "Do you want to be friends with a dog named Fif?" and Rosie, to her surprise, does. "That's how you make friends," Fif tells Maurice.

We've all been there. Making new friends can be uncomfortable. In its quiet, measured way, Good Rosie! expresses all the ambivalence and hopefulness of new encounters, as well as the comical aspects of good intentions gone terribly, ridiculously wrong. Young readers will easily relate to the various dog-park befriending techniques, having likely seen--and participated in--them all on their own playgrounds already. The hard-won friendship among the three pooches will delight readers of all ages, who will sense from the start that there is not a single "bad dog" in the bunch, first impressions notwithstanding.

DiCamillo and Bliss, who previously teamed up on the marvelously quirky Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken, are a fantastic creative duo. DiCamillo's expressive, humorous dialogue both entertains and touches the reader with an implicit undercurrent of humanity, even though the protagonists are canines. DiCamillo is an authorial animal whisperer, as evidenced in her two Newbery Medal winners, The Tale of Despereaux and Flora & Ulysses, and her Newbery Honor book, Because of Winn-Dixie. The voices of the three dogs are priceless, reflecting each of their natures: unquenchably enthusiastic Fifi/Fif; big, drooling, slightly clueless Maurice; and Rosie, who is a little bit sad and a little bit shy.

Bliss, who is well known for both his children's book illustrations (Bailey; A Fine, Fine School; Diary of a Worm; My Favorite Pets) and his cartoons, which appear frequently in the New Yorker, has a masterful way with dog illustrations. The personalities and expressions of Rosie, Fif(i) and Maurice are vividly familiar, as though they are real dogs we already know. The illustrations are set up in a graphic storybook format, with panels that change size and format to help pace the narrative; scenes are uncrowded, allowing readers plenty of space and time to sit with the story.

The panels in which Rosie meets Maurice, for example, capture to perfection her bemusement at the entire situation. Her head tilts upward a fraction of an inch per panel to take in Maurice's massive jowls, of which we only see a small portion in the upper left corner. Echoing that scene a few pages later is the one in which Rosie meets Fifi. All that can be seen in the first two panels are a pair of legs bounding out of the frames, with Rosie's head following their trajectory like a ball in a tennis match. In the third panel, Fifi has landed, pleased, in front of Rosie, who remains silent and unmoved. The moment when Rosie realizes she might actually like Fifi "[j]ust a little bit" is when Fifi models a tenacity and spiritedness that allows her to rise up out of a pool of Maurice's drool seconds after having been shaken to within an inch of her wee life: "Her collar sparkles. Her legs tremble. She holds her tiny heard up high and says, 'I'm Fifi and I'm alive!' "

And a new morning routine begins, in which "Rosie walks away from her bowl without looking back," lonely no more. Fif and Maurice wait for Rosie at the park where "Rosie chases Fif. Maurice chases Rosie. They run very fast." And, sometimes, they happily "catch each other." Readers will celebrate all three dogs' dogged commitment to finding their pack. --Emilie Coulter

Candlewick Press, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-8, 9780763689797, September 4, 2018

Candlewick Press: Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss

Kate Dicamillo: Good Kate!

Kate DiCamillo with Ramona (photo: Catherine Smith)

There are more than 22 million copies in print worldwide of Kate DiCamillo's books, including The Tale of Despereaux,Flora & Ulysses (both of which received Newbery Medals) and Because of Winn-Dixie. She served one term as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, appointed by the Library of Congress. After working together with illustrator Harry Bliss on Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken, the animal-loving duo was determined to write another book together, this one about a dog. Thus, Good Rosie! (Candlewick, September 4, 2018) was born. Shelf Awareness talked with DiCamillo about friendship, Peanuts cartoons and the appeal of a certain kind of "heartbroken hopefulness" in a character.

Wow, dogs and people really are the same, aren't they? Did you ever have some of the same struggles Rosie does when trying to make friends?  

Yes! I particularly relate to that moment in Good Rosie! when Rosie is standing with Fif(i) and Maurice and she looks up at the clouds and everything seems so serene up there, and it's all so complicated down on the ground. Life is more complicated, more chaotic and louder with friends. It is also sweeter, richer, deeper.  

You have such a wide range of book subjects and approaches. Where did the inspiration for Good Rosie! come from?

A long time ago, I wrote a poem called "Snow, Aldo" about a man and his dog in Central Park. The poem was for an anthology called Thanks and Giving. Harry did an illustration for the poem and that art is hanging in my house and gives me joy every day. Harry gets dogs.

For over a decade now, Harry and I have said to each other: Why don't we do a dog book together? And finally, we have.

Did Rosie's personality emerge as you wrote the book or did you already know what she would be like when you started writing? How did Maurice and Fif(i)'s wonderful voices come to you?

I never know what any character is going to be like when I start writing. Harry had done some sketches of dogs and I started with those sketches and Rosie emerged first. And then, oh wonder of wonders, here came Maurice. And Fif(i).

The book is laid out like a comic book, with panels telling the story. Why did you and Harry decide on this format?

We are both huge fans of Charles Schulz's Peanuts. We wanted to capture that heartbroken hopefulness of Schultz's. And the panels came from that, I think.

What do you hope children will take away from this story?

How complicated and wondrous and deeply satisfying it is to connect with another being.

What did you take away from (writing) this story?

That life without friends is meaningless. 

Tell me about your dog(s). (I assume you have at least one!)

Ramona. Named for Ramona Quimby, of course. She is a mini golden doodle in training to be a circus dog. Really. I've never seen a dog so adept at leaping about on her hind legs.

Harry Bliss: Relating to Rosie

Harry Bliss with Penny

Harry Bliss is an illustrator and cartoonist. He is known for his New Yorker cartoons as well as his many children's book illustrations (Bailey; A Fine, Fine School; Diary of a Worm; My Favorite Pets). He and Kate DiCamillo worked together previously on Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken, and had planned for years to team up on a kids' book about dogs. Candlewick will publish Good Rosie! on September 4, 2018.

Is Good Rosie! the book you imagined when you and Kate DiCamillo first started talking about doing a dog book together?

Initially, I imagined doing a book of dog-related poems. But then Kate sent a narrative about an introverted dog and I thought kids could really relate to Rosie. As a child, I was a lot like Rosie. I spent a lot of time alone and was reluctant to open myself up to other children.

What made you decide to take the paneled approach to this particular book?

Comics are a wonderful way to introduce young readers to the joys of books and I wanted this book to have the feel of an early reader, not intimidating for children. There's something wonderful that happens in comics--the narrative that we don't see in between the panels, the time elapsing in the story which our imagination makes up. I have always found that aspect very intriguing. 

The illustrations for Good Rosie! are in watercolor. Is this your preferred medium for kids' books?

I adore watercolors. I have been working with watercolors since I was 10 years old. I have never been asked this question before, but yes, I feel watercolors are a wonderful medium for children's books. There's a lightness and sincerity in this medium--a drawing medium, only with color. Moreover, I'm a Pisces... fish.

How does the process for creating cartoons differ from illustrating a book written by someone else? Do the words of the story "speak" to your illustrations?

Well, cartoons are one-offs, single-panel narratives, not multiple panels for pages, so I don't have to keep a consistency of character(s) going for 32 pages like I do in books. With cartoons, the viewer has to imagine a narrative leading up to that single panel, as well as the narrative that follows the panel. Imagining those two narratives will often inform a caption for the cartoon. When I do books, whether I write them or someone else writes them, the narrative is far more illustrative and complicated. A cartoon will take me two hours; a children's book will take me 10 months.

Only a true dog lover could capture the priceless expressions and poses of Rosie, Fif(i) and Maurice the way you do. Who is the dog in your life right now? Is she/he jealous of your relationship with Rosie and Co.?

Ha! My dog Penny would most certainly be jealous of Rosie; she has me wrapped around her little paw, which interestingly enough, smells just like corn chips. Penny is 12 years old and has developed a little arthritis, but she's still pretty active--woke me up at six o'clock this morning for breakfast.--Emilie Coulter

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