Monday, September 17, 2012


I used to be the head of the Weezie Library for Children on the island of Nantucket.  It was a wonderful time in my life, in some ways very like a story.  I was very lucky to meet a family early on in my time there who became my second family.  I babysat for their children, shared adventures with them, spent time at their house...I even lived with them for a while, sharing a bedroom with their middle child.  They had the best yellow lab, named Bucky.  He was enormous, sweet, and good-natured, a real friend and companion to all of us.  When the whole family would go off-island for a vacation, Bucky would come stay with me at my apartment.  He would jump up and stretch out on the bed next to me at night.  Bucky was a sweet old dog.

Homer reminded me of Bucky in a great way.  The book begins with Homer, a big yellow dog, laying on the porch, looking out over the ocean, nose up to sniff the air.  The sun is just rising, and the day seems full of possibility.  Cooper's text is brief, but sums up the dog's experience so honestly and lovingly.  As the entire family (including a whole passel of dogs) tromp past him, he rests contentedly on the porch.  He's right at the edge of the stairs, where he can survey everything.  Everyone who passes offers Homer things to do - chase and race around the yard, swimming in the waves, running to the market.  But Homer demurs, saying "No, no, I'm fine right here."

The day passes, and soon everyone is back.  As they pass Homer on their way back inside, they all report on their activities - the chase and race was tiring, the waves were big and wild, the market trip produced great things to eat.  Homer is the family's touchstone.  As the sun sets, they all gather on the porch around him, evidence of their day spread around Homer.  The sweetest moment come when the father asks if Homer needs anything.  Homer answers no, that he has everything he wants.  Cooper shows Homer in a series of panels getting up slowly, a little stiff from a day on the wooden porch, going into the house, and settling into an oversized chair.  He is surrounded by the family again, and you can see Homer's calm, his love and peaceful demeanor.  Homer truly has everything he needs right around him.

This story is heartfelt.  Cooper has written a paean to the heart of the home and a beloved dog.  You can tell how everyone regards Homer - they pat him, one of the little girls tucks a hydrangea flower behind Homer's ears.  Even the other family dogs stop for Homer's approval before moving on.  Cooper cuts through the sweetness of these scenes with other techniques.  There are details in each illustration that show the life of the family, things we can all relate to.  Some of these details are humorous - in the picture of the dogs barrelling past Homer on their way to chase and race, a Scottie flies off the porch, all legs extended.  Though one of the parents clearly has the door opened wide to let the pack out, a basset hound chooses to go out through the doggie door.  There is also some bittersweetness to this book - Homer is clearly getting older, no longer needing to romp and burn off energy like the other dogs.  Instead, he is content to stay at home, sniffing the air and monitoring everyone's activities.

The CIP for this book says that Cooper used watercolors and pencil to create the artwork.  First I want to say that mentioning the way the illustrations were created are so important to me.  I am actually not sure why EVERY picture book doesn't include this information.  It celebrates the art that was made for that book, and that's what it is - art.  Could you imagine going to a museum, finding something framed that you really liked, and having no idea how it was created?  I think this is a valuable learning opportunity.  Even after all of these years reviewing picture books, I am still astonished at the way picture books are created.  I still quite often need a reminder of the methods that were used, especially when there are multiple methods used.  Especially as art classes are cut all over the United States, the artistic method seems like crucial information for readers to have.  I love seeing how a technique works best, and speculating on why an artist chose something particular.  Okay, rant over.  But if you are a publisher, please consider including this every time.

This time Cooper's choice suits the illustrations perfectly.  The pencil helps delineate soft, puffy clouds and the fur all over Homer.  The watercolors are precise, rich and beachy without being too pastel - they remind me of the natural beauty of Nantucket.  In the first illustration, Homer is the exact color of the morning sky and a path to the beach.  He is a part of the scenery, even though he remains slightly apart from it.  Most pages are paneled - with one or more panels framed with crisp white.  There are two double-page spreads, both showing the whole family, busy with their own activities yet all within Homer's eyesight.  Your eye catches on many details as you scan, but these pictures are filled with love.
There is no getting around the love in this book, both within the family and for Homer.  Homer is the elder statesman of the family and graciously accepts the respect that is his due.   This book really struck a chord with me because of my beach experiences, but I think anyone who has experienced the love of a dog will love it just as much.  On the last page, Cooper focuses tightly on Homer's loved, loving face - all is right in his world as he falls asleep.

Homer.  Elisha Cooper.  Greenwillow Books, 2012.

borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library

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