We just discovered the Dog Loves ... series, and my 3 1/2 year old daughter and I are both hooked. We actually started with the third book, then realized that we had the second one hiding out on our shelves, and naturally had to purchase the first. To be fair, I was vaguely aware of having read the second book when it came out, and I liked it enough to keep it, but I didn't appreciate it until I had actually read it with my daughter. Because it is the interactivity that is beautiful about the Dog books.
These books are of the genre that I would classify as "sneakily educational", and which can totally work if done well. Because let's face it, preschoolers are little sponges, looking to soak up learning wherever they can find it. Give them a cute dog with a vivid imagination and an appreciation for books to help them along the way, and they are all set.
Dog Loves Books is the first of the series. You can't really go wrong with a book that starts out: "Dog loved books. He loved the smell of them, and he loved the feel of them. He loved everything about them...", accompanied by a series of illustrations of Dog glorying in his books.
In this installment (the least educational of the three, but the one that introduces readers to Dog's personality and preferences), Dog decides to open up a bookstore. Sadly, no customers come. But once he gets over the initial disappointment, Dog realizes that he's perfectly happy to sit in his bookstore, reading books. A lovely series of pages shows Dog surrounded by dragons and giraffes and spaceships, as he dwells inside of his books. And in the end, all of his experience reading books turns out to be useful, when he finally gets a chance to make recommendations.
In Dog Loves Drawing, Dog still has his bookstore. He is initially surprised when his Aunt Dora sends him a book with blank pages. A note from his aunt tells him that it's a sketchbook. Once again demonstrating his ability to immerse himself in a story, Dog draws several friends, and then travels with them through a series of adventures. Throughout these adventures, Dog and his friends are shown drawing the next steps, coloring things in on their own, etc. At the end, the reader sees Dog with his filled sketchbook, and only then is it confirmed that the adventures were all in Dog's imagination.
My daughter had a bit of trouble grasping the concept here - that the friends weren't real, and the adventures weren't actually happening. But I think it will become more clear on future readings. And she still enjoyed it. She also learned things like what doodling is, and how to make scenery look like it's going by "FAST!". This one is a good companion book to I'll Save You, Bobo! by Eileen & Marc Rosenthal, in which Willy draws similar stories.
Dog Loves Counting is the most overtly educational of the three. But still totally fun. Dog is having trouble getting to sleep, and counting sheep doesn't seem to work. So he decides to count creatures that he meets in his books, like a dodo and three-toed sloth. He marches merrily along, collecting creature after creature.
In addition to there being a running total of the creatures, each creature also has an attribute that Dog can count, like the bands on the nine-banded armadillo. The illustrations show small numbers about each band, encouraging young readers to both recognize the numbers and practice counting. And once the numbers are all counted up to 10, the animals go off for a bit, and Dog has a chance to count backwards, too. We end with:
"When Dog woke up the next morning and looked at his books, he knew that friends and adventures were never far away--that was something he could count on."
The thing about these books, particularly the last two, is that they simply beg for interaction between the reader and the child listener. My babysitter used the first one to teach my daughter how to spell Dog. I used the third one to practice counting to 10 forward and backward with her. I let her count things on each page. She counted things that weren't directly part of the story, like the number of leaves on the ferns shown on one page, etc. Her only disappointment was that the book didn't continue to 11, 12, etc.
Yates' watercolor illustrations are perfect for these stories. Dog is rendered mostly in outline, a white dog against a white background, as counterpoint to the vividness of the animals and settings that he imagines. You can tell from his perky ears and big smile that he's friendly. His eyes are often closed (probably because he is busy imagining things).
The animals with which Dog surrounds himself are colorful and big-eyed. They're not realistic, exactly (how often do you see a dodo anyway?), but they welcome Dog, and the reader, to their fanciful world. The pictures in Dog Loves Drawing are particularly fun, including a big green monster, furry with sharp teeth and four feet clad in red sneakers. It looks exactly (and in the best possible way) like something that a six-year-old would draw.
So we have a series of books that celebrate reading and the imagination, and incorporate concepts like drawing and counting without being even the least bit dull. All with warm, surprise-filled illustrations. No wonder these are a hit with my daughter and with me. I wonder what Dog will love next? We'll be waiting!
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: July 2010, August 2012, September 2013
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher (2/3) and purchase
FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).