Book: The Stray Dog

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The Stray Dog: From a True Story by Reiko Sassa

Author: Marc Simont
Publisher: HarperCollins

When a little dog appears at a family picnic, the girl and boy play with him all afternoon, and they name him Willy. At day’s end they say good-bye. But the dog has won their hearts and stays on their minds.

The following Saturday the family returns to the picnic grounds to look for Willy, but they are not alone—the dogcatcher is looking for him, too…

Caldecott Medalist Marc Simont’s heartwarming tale of a stray dog who finds a home is told with appealing simplicity and grace.


“It was a great day for a picnic,” begins Marc Simont’s lovely, touching, happy-ending picture book, The Stray Dog. And indeed, judging from the opening spread’s clear skies, sparkling water, zooming boats, and adventure-bound cars it looks to be so. The story begins as a scruffy little dog makes an appearance at a family’s picnic. The children name him Willy, and by the end of the day they desperately want to take him home. The family drives away, but all week they can think of nothing but their new furry friend. They return to picnic at the same spot the very next week, much to Willy’s good fortune—and that of the newly smitten family.

As in all the best illustrated children’s books, Simont lets his pictures tell the story. We don’t have to be told how wrenching it is for the kids to leave Willy behind—we see their small outstretched arms out the car window and the puppy watching them go. Simont doesn’t have to tell us that the next Saturday the family is completely preoccupied with the possibility of another Willy sighting. We see the family, silent, munching, and just to the side is a plate of meat they’ve put out, just in case. Young readers will adore this simple tale of puppy love, but adults will be equally charmed. Simont illustrated his first book in 1939, and since then has illustrated nearly 100 titles, including the 1949 Caldecott Honor Book The Happy Day, by Ruth Krauss and Janice May Udry’s A Tree Is Nice, winner of the 1957 Caldecott Medal. This book is our favorite so far of the year! (Ages 4 to 8) —Karin Snelson

Barnes and Noble

Caldecott medalist Marc Simont proves once again that he is the quintessential children’s storyteller with his latest effort, The Stray Dog. Simont borrows from a true story and turns it into a delightful and beguiling tale of one family’s adventures with a stray dog they encounter in a park. While picnicking in the country, this city-living family finds and plays with a dog they name Willy. Thinking the dog might belong to someone, they leave it behind when it’s time to return home. But the entire family thinks about him throughout the week to come. When they return the following weekend and find Willy again roaming the park—this time with the dogcatcher in hot pursuit—they claim Willy as their own and bring him home.

Simont’s tale is a deceptively understated and heartwarming story of love, giving, and family—a family whose definition and makeup is subject to change. There’s plenty of humor to be found, too, primarily in Simont’s beguiling and splashy watercolor illustrations where the subtleties ignored in the text spring to life. The front fly page is a good example, boasting a simple picture of Willy’s tail-wagging back half while his front end is buried inside a large bag of trash. And later, when the quick-thinking boy in the family donates his belt to use as a collar, he’s shown struggling to keep his pants up while his sister (who donated a hair ribbon to use as a leash) frolics and plays with the family’s newest member. —Beth Amos

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