Several years ago, Megan and I read a picture book called Wolves by Emily Gravett, and were struck by how funny and clever and all-around excellent it was. So when I saw Dogs while wandering through Barnes & Noble in search of a page-a-day calendar, I was really excited: Emily Gravett, yay! And I love dogs! And the cover features a dog holding its own leash in its mouth, which is pretty much unfailingly cute! So I put it on hold at the library, and Megan came over, and we read it. And, well, it’s sweet. But it’s no Wolves.
I think mostly the issue is just one of intended audience: Wolves was aimed at grades 1-3, so it’s got some good verbal and visual play happening, while Dogs is aimed at younger kids, preschool to grade 1, so it’s more basic, with simple and straightforward text. Each pair of facing pages includes a pair of dogs—or sometimes more—and follows the pattern you can see in the above “I love tough dogs/and soft dogs” spread. Page A is “I love dogs that [do/are thing x]” and page B is “and dogs that [do/are the opposite of thing x].” I can see how this is good for little kids: there’s lots of space on the page, the sentences are easy to follow and teach about opposites, and the dogs are undeniably endearing.
For a grown-up reader who isn’t reading to a kid, the art isn’t quite enough to carry the book, but it’s still pretty great. The endpapers feature black and white drawings of different dogs, labeled by breed: a happy-looking Saluki, a solid little Bull Terrier, a wary-looking [English] Bulldog, a cuddly-looking Shar-Pei. The color illustrations in the main part of the book are fleshed-out and sweet and often funny: the title page features a worried-looking St. Bernard holding a ragged toy bunny in its mouth; another spread includes a concerned-looking Westie watching a German Shepherd and another big dog tear the stuffing out of another toy; another spread includes two bigger dogs looking dismayed at a tiny Chihuahua’s loud barking. Gravett captures the dogs really well in various poses—at rest or running or playing—and the different personalities of different dogs/breeds come across.