Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book review: A Day, a Dog

A Day, a Dog

By Gabrielle Vincent

Front Street Inc., 1999

$16.95 hardcover

This book was such a discovery that I remember exactly where I was when I first saw it several years ago. The dog on the cover caught my eye at M Is for Mystery, San Mateo’s great bookshop. I opened it to the first page, and within a minute I had tears in my eyes. By the time I’d finished it (it’s a picture book; it doesn’t take long), I knew that in the name of kindness and of all good things in the universe, I had to buy it. This book is that profound.

In spare, exquisite charcoal drawings, Belgian author/illustrator Gabrielle Vincent begins with a heartbreaking image: a dog being thrown from a car. The dog chases it, but the car speeds away until he’s exhausted, confused, despondent. How do we know a dog is despondent? That is the secret of this book: Vincent’s remarkable ability to depict body language with a few simple lines. We follow the dog through the first day of his sudden, unwanted freedom, wandering roadways, causing a traffic accident, roaming a desolate beach, and finally skulking through back alleys. In the end, Vincent leaves us on a hopeful note (which I won’t give away), and we’re left to draw our own conclusions. Does the dog find happiness? I have to believe he does. It still chokes me up to think about it.

Though Vincent is known for her children’s stories, this book would have disturbed me as a kid. But perhaps with gentle parental guidance, it can be a catalyst to helping children understand their responsibility toward other living creatures. For the rest of us, it’s both a harsh reminder of how cruel people can be and an affirmation that compassion for animals is a gift we can—and should—offer every day of our own lives.

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