The Stray Dog
by Marc Simont

Marc Simont's The Stray Dog
from a true story by Reiko Sassa

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-8

A second chance family story

I'm guessing author/illustrator Marc Simont has had a pretty happy life.

He won his first Caldecott Honor (for illustration) in 1950. He won the Caldecott Medal in 1957. Then, over 50 years after his first Honor and 60 years after his first publication, Simont won the Caldecott Honor again for his joyous rendition of The Stray Dog.

Thus proving that your childhood doesn't have to be recent history in order for you to thrive in the children's book field. Also proving that life doesn't have to make you bitter. The Stray Dog presents a wonderful world in which people get the second chance they need to make things right.

If you want your children to believe that things always tend to work out in the end, boy, is this the book for you!

A family of four goes picnicking in the park. A dog appears, and both daughter and son are drawn to the joyful creature. They give him a name (Willy) and spend most of their day playing with him.

The kids, of course, want to bring Willy home. Mom and Dad say no.

"He must belong to somebody," explained the mother, "and they would miss him."

But something doesn't feel right. Says the daughter,

"Maybe Willy doesn't belong to anybody."

For the next week, each member of the family finds themselves distracted. Thinking about Willy.

Come Saturday, they go for a picnic. At the same park. It's pretty clear that everyone is hoping Willy makes an appearance. Review continues.

the first picnic, image collated from facing pages

Of course, in the real world, that feels like a longshot. But this is Marc Simont's world (and let me be the first to sign up to live in it!).

Suddenly, Willy dashes right past the family at their picnic table, followed closely by the dogcatcher...

Brother and sister join in the chase!

Dogcatcher nets Willy. He explains to the boy and girl:

"He has no collar. He has no leash... This dog is a stray. He doesn't belong to anybody."

The boy took off his belt.

"Here's his collar."

The girl took off her hair ribbon. "Here's his leash," she sais. "His name is Willy, and he belongs to us."

If these are lies, they're innocent ones clearly aimed at a greater good. The dogcatcher leaves the dog with the kids. Willy and the little girl dance...while the boy struggles to keep up his pants!

The Stray Dog

On the last page of the book, Simont depicts Willy tuckered out from a day at play - and at least a week on his own - snoozed out on a doggie bed beside a water bowl that already bears his name. Simont writes:

And Willy settled in where he belonged.

Thus gifting us with a world - or at least a story - where everything works out precisely as it should.

Maybe it's just me, but I heard in that ending echoes of Dr. Seuss's brilliant, Horton Hatches the Egg, when - after devoting a year of his life to tending a delinquent mother bird's egg - the egg hatches and out pops... an elephant bird! As Seuss wrote,

It should be, it should be, it SHOULD be that way.

In The Stray Dog Simont gives our kids a heartwarming story with the ending it should have. And we should thank him for it!

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