Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest’s Once I Ate a Pie
Book review by Monica Friedman
13 Honest Poems about Dogs, by Dogs
According to the seal on the cover, this book, in which “13 Dogs Tell All!” is “Dog Approved.”
This is just a delightful bit of whimsy, which introduces children to point-of-view and the concept of persona in poetry, while amusing and entertaining readers. Accompanied by thickly painted illustrations by Katy Schneider, it’s fine for reading aloud and also a compelling book to be enjoyed alone by those who are just learning, or have not yet learned, how to read.
The dogs run the gamut from young to old, purebred to mutt, beginning with “Puppy,” who sees that “The world is big. Trees too tall. Sky too high,” and ending with Luke, an old dog who sleeps in the sun and dreams of his youth. “I still bark when I want to,” he says, and “might howl at the moon,” later.
Each dog expresses its own particular desires and self-image. Gus, the shepherd, says, “I want my people in a group. Like sheep,” and follows them to the bathroom, herding them back to the others. Sugar, a sleepy dog says, “I only get out of bed to chase the cat. And he’s not around. A trio of greyhounds stick together, “RUNNERS. LEAPERS. CHASERS,” with the knowledge that they are “soft. Sweet. Shy.”
There is comedy in their observations. A pocket-sized dog in a raincoat can’t understand its “tiny” collar, coat, dish, and water bowl. “I don’t know why my things are so tiny,” it says. “I am HUGE.” Needle Nose, a dog with a pointed snout, says, “I have a very good nose,” and lists all the things such a nose is useful for in order to get inside of things, concluding, “If something is closed, I open it. If it is perfect, I tear it apart. I love my work. I love my nose.”
There is also seriousness in the dogs’ perspectives. In “Tillie and Maude,” two dogs explain the characteristics that make them complete opposites, while concluding that they have two things in common: the look alike and they love each other. Luke, the old dog, concludes Once I Ate a Pie on a calm and silent note. Review continues.
Mr. Beefy, the dog who once ate a pie, speaks to self-esteem issues with the statement, “I am not thin, but I am beautiful.” Wupsi is cute and knows it. Lucy, a shelter rescue, gets a little possessive. Abby does not steal; she borrows (but when she “borrows…loaves of bread from the counter/meat off a plate/anything in a bowl” she knows she doesn’t “have to give those things back”).
Creative use of fonts emphasizes certain words throughout the story, turning the text into a secondary form of illustration. There’s a playful magic in the reality of the dogs’ worlds, and the cadence of the poetry, along with the clever layout and enticing pictures, heightens the sense of entering into the canine mind. Once I Ate a Pie is a sweet book of poems for young readers, full of joy and laughter and just enough spite to keep it from falling into the realm of sappy sentimentality. These are real dogs, just as kids will recognize them.
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