We often times pinpoint children as the fearful ones in the human race. We chuckle at their fear of the monster under the bed and pat their heads when they state how scary the dark is. Oh children, such active imaginations, silly, silly. Truth be told though, as it is in ‘Black Dog,’ as we grow older we often times let our own adult fears cloud our vision, and even the smallest of us can conquer the biggest of fears.
What Is It About?
Written and illustrated by Levi Pinfold, ‘Black Dog’ is about the experiences of the Hope family. It begins in their unique, towering, ramshackle house in the snowy woods. Mr. Hope is enjoying his breakfast when he looks out the window and, to his surprise and horror, sees a black dog that he relates as being the size of a tiger. Mrs. Hope sees the dog next, and calls for Mr. Hope, reporting that there was a black dog the size of an elephant outside. Upstairs their daughter Adeline Hope sees the eye of the dog gazing in the bathroom window as she brushes her teeth.
Screaming for her parents, she wastes no time in announcing there is a black dog the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex outside. Finally, Maurice Hope wakes up and shouts in fright as he sees the fur of the black dog obscuring his window. “There’s a black dog the size of a Big Jeffy outside!” he yells as his family rushes to him. Nobody really knows what a Big Jeffy is, but they all hide under the covers to escape the dog. It is then that the youngest, Small Hope, steps up. Despite the warnings of danger, she goes outside and faces the big dog, before leading him on a chase that will slowly shrink him down to a normal size.
The illustrations are an absolute delight. The inside of the ramshackle house is depicted with quirky details that make readers that much fonder of the Hope family. Smaller sepia toned illustrations surround the text and show pictures of the family as they rush between rooms, adding another member to the panicked group each time. Levi Pinfold will have readers smitten from his illustrations alone-in that sense, he reminds me a bit of Erin Stead. In my mind anyone who reminds me of her has already won me over, but Pinfold still presented his own unique style for readers to love. Also like Stead, the illustrations are so lovely it seems his story could stand on its own with the simply fantastical drawings saying more than words.
One main theme the story presents us with is the idea that when we let fear run away with us, the situation can quickly become absurd as our fear amplifies itself again and again. Being blinded by fear though, that absurdity doesn’t matter. Then there is the idea (literally represented by Small Hope) that no matter how small you are you can still face and conquer your biggest fear (literally represented by the enormous black dog.)
Quibbles & Qualms
The only thing that sat with me a little wrong was how Small Hope just wandered out to the giant dog whilst her parents hid under the bed, simply warning her not to go. While not the true or intended message of the story, I think it could pass on to young readers that it is okay to literally wander out into a scary situations, such as those involving strangers/strange animals. It may be a good idea to ensure the true message is made clear to the young one reading it/being read to-that is you can conquer your fears by not letting them get the better of you, even if they seem unconquerable.
I was a child who had a tendency to approach stray dogs to try and help them-ironically most of them were black-so I can happily relate to this story on a somewhat personal (and literal) level. Of course even if you don’t have a kid that likes to wander after stray animals, I think this is a lovely and enjoyable children’s book. The whimsical, intricate, illustrations bring to life a story that has a message readers of all ages can take away from, while flowing writing interrupted by an occasional dash of humor lends itself to the book beautifully.