As a book reviewer, I have no favorite genre; if a book is well-written, I will unabashedly tout its merit. In the case of children’s picture books, if it is well-written and meaningfully illustrated, it should immediately find a place in homes and public libraries. Good Rosie! is exactly that sort of children’s book. Because its author is Kate DiCamillo and its illustrator is the gifted and funny Harry Bliss, Good Rosie! gets a rousing YES from me.
I read Good Rosie! several times before the true acid test would take place. As always, DiCamillo treats the children (and adults) who read her books with respect, writing of subjects that go way past the farmyard animals often inhabiting her stories for very young readers. Rosie is a small dog, a Jack Russell terrier by the look of her, who lives a quiet life with her owner/companion George. Every day George and Rosie have breakfast together and then take walks. Every day, after finishing her dog food, Rosie looks at her reflection in the bottom of her dog dish and says “ruff, ruff” in the hope of a response from her reflection.
Rosie and George look happy while walking, with both of them admiring the shapes of clouds and Rosie always on the lookout for a squirrel to chase. But Rosie “woofs” at clouds resembling dogs, again hoping they will “woof” back. In words, DiCamillo tells us Rosie is lonely, and in pictures, Bliss tells us the same thing.
One day George decides to take Rosie to a dog park, thinking it would be good for Rosie to have some dog friends in her life. As we all know, friends are not always so easy to come by. Two dogs at the park attempt to befriend Rosie; Maurice, a St. Bernard and Fifi, a tiny dog who can yip and bounce very high and whose name Fifi is spelled out on her jeweled collar. Rosie is not impressed. Rosie does not care for either dog. Rosie wants to go home. If we look closely at Bliss’s illustration of Rosie, we can tell she looks very unsure of the situation at the dog park.
Did I mention that Maurice has a stuffed animal bunny? He does, and he likes to take hold of it in his big St. Bernard mouth and shake the stuffed bunny every which way. This is how Maurice plays. The problem is that Fifi is no bigger than the stuffed bunny.
Now comes the acid test to find out if this children’s book is as good as I think it is. My Portland grandkids have come to Reno for a visit. I am the book-Nana, and before Amelia and Orion head for the swimming pool, they want at least one book read to them. I tell them that I have just the thing and open Good Rosie! It takes a long time to finish the book. Although Amelia and Orion have squirrels in their backyard in Portland, they have no dog to chase squirrels. Portland has its share of clouds, and a sidebar occurs while we talk about cloud shapes.
Then there is the big event when Maurice takes Fifi in his large St. Bernard mouth and shakes her like his toy bunny. It is scary, and Orion and Amelia are happy that George stands up and yells, “Drop it! Drop!” They are even happier when “Rosie saves Fifi by biting Maurice’s leg,” at which time Fifi falls from his mouth to the ground. Shortly after, Maurice spits out some jeweled stones from Fifi’s collar. Once it is determined that Fifi is alive, George finds that Fifi’s collar no longer spells Fifi, it spells Fif. The yippy, bouncy Fifi faces Bernard and says, “you tried to eat me! And now my name is Fif!’” Of course, poor Maurice is sorry and only wanted to be friends and play, but now Amelia and Orion are hysterical, laughing and shouting, “Fif! Fif!” It is time to get the kids off to the swimming pool.
In the four days the grandkids spent with their book-Nana, Good Rosie! was read a half a dozen times. With each read, we talked about loneliness, bravery, and how friendships can come in all shapes. Something we did not talk about, something I will remedy when I bring the book to Portland on my next visit, is the subtle telling, without a word, of how George, as well as Maurice and Fif’s owners, have become friends. Maybe George was as lonely as Rosie. We will go back and look more closely at Bliss’s wonderful illustrations and talk about how grownups can be nervous about making new friends, just like kids
And that is why I so admire Kate DiCamillo’s books. With subtlety and wisdom, she never shies away from the important issues in our lives, issues that are a part of our childhood as well as our adulthood. Books like Good Rosie! deserve to be read and reread. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Kate DiCamillo: The Tiger Rising, The Tale of Despereaux; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane; Mercy Watson to the Rescue (five more in the series); The Magician’s Elephant; Bink and Gollie, Two for One; Flora & Ulysses; Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon; Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken; Leroy Ninkin Saddles Up; Louisiana’s Way Home.