Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Picture Book for Art Lovers: The Lonesome Puppy by Yoshimoto Nara

The Lonesome Puppy by Yoshimoto Nara
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Chronicle Books (March 26, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0811856402
ISBN-13: 978-0811856409
Source of book: Review copy from publisher

"I was all alone
and lonesome.

I was always hoping
for someone, somewhere,
to be my friend.

It's true. I was all alone,
and this is why..."

For those of you who love picture books that encourage the imagination and that are a little "out there," The Lonesome Puppy by Yoshimoto Nara might be a good choice for you. You see, the puppy is so lonesome because he's HUGE. So huge that no one notices him. Until one day when a little girl DOES notice him. She scales one of his giant legs, climbs up his back, and finally up to his head. The two become fast friends, and the puppy is not lonesome anymore.

I'm a little mixed about this book. I've been familiar with Yoshimoto Nara's art for a while and was very interested in seeing how his sometimes devious, even evil-looking child subjects would translate into his first children's picture book. Well, in some of the illustrations, the little girl in the book definitely has the devious eyes that scream "Yoshimoto Nara." However, she's not scary, and her eyes and expressions change throughout the book. The puppy is completely adorable, and any animal-loving child will love the pictures in the book. I also love the way it inspires imagination and think kids will definitely laugh at the idea of a puppy being so big that no one notices it.

Here's where I get a little iffy though. I'm not into books that are too "messagy," and the story ends with, "No matter how alone you are, there is always someone, somewhere, waiting to meet you. Just look and you will find them." It's just a little too much for me. Sometimes kids just want a story, and this ending just seemed out of place.

The other weird thing is that when the story ends, there are a few more spreads, like the one below that show the little girl playing with the dog.

While I think they are great images, I was put off at the way they were just stuck at the end. Is this a children's book or is it a showcase of Nara's work? I was a bit put off by it.

So, my final assessment is that the story is weak, but the illustrations are great. If you love Nara's art or his style, pick up this book. It's worth it for the art.

But that leads me to this question. Do great picture books need both a great story AND great illustrations? I've always thought yes, but do kids always want this? Maybe they just want to look at pretty pictures, and maybe sometimes the story is so good that they don't really even care about or look at the illustrations.

I don't have much experience here. My daughter is too young to understand stories, but she loves to look at the pictures. For us, if the pictures aren't compelling, the book will not stay open for more than 2 minutes. She LOVES The Lonesome Puppy and calls the puppy, "Chip," the name of our white dog, so for us, pictures are key.

What do you think?

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