Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reading: Good Dog

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It's no secret that I love dogs.  I once wrote a required writing assignment about my dog, Nellie, the red-headed dachshund that I grew up with by my side.  My teacher said it probably couldn't be done, but for whatever the reason, she relented and let me do it.  I wistfully had to delete sentences and entire paragraphs to fit within the required page limit, as I just had so much to profile about my beloved.  Why, a person doesn't have to spend a lot of time with a dog to realize that it has feelings, nor does he/she have to spend time with lots of different dogs to realize that each dog has its own personality.  In the poetry book Good Dog written by Maya Gottfried and published in 2005 by Alfed A. Knopf, the dogs telling the poem each have their own personalities!  When read aloud and with expression, I can imagine many dogs that I have known standing proudly behind the words of these poems, a smile on their faces and a wag of their tails! 

My sweet Randy
Some of the dogs portrayed in this quick-read of poetry are small and mighty, like the small brown chihuahua who proclaims, "I may be small, but I am swift.  Don't you mess with me."  Some are sweet and cuddly, like the spaniel who says, "Tired, resting on the big blanket.  Beside you."  Some of them express fury towards their owners, like the pomeranian with the bouffant who complains, "You did it again!  And you promised.  You promised! [...] Look at me!  Hair!  Hair!  Hair!  I can barely see!  Now I'm as round as a powder puff.  This is just embarrassing." (I think my dog Ralphie would say that.)  Others express their apologies, writing, "I feel terrible about chewing on your custom-made leather shoes.  Though, they were on the floor." My favorite poem includes the heart-felt lines, "For you, only you, I will always be there."  (My dog Randy would say that.) 

My happy Ralphie!
The poems in Good Dog are simple, occupying only a page each, as well as an accompanying picture on the opposite page.  The poems are not long, and the language is concrete.  However, the poems lend themselves to great dramatics and could be very fun for elementary students to act out.  I can just imagine one of my students indignantly proclaiming, "You promised.  You promised!"  The poems are also quite relatable for anyone who has spent time with a dog, as they are sure to find a poem to fit their beloved companion.  

The illustrations in Good Dog, by Robert Rahway Zakanitch, are realistic and rather simple.  Each poem features a black and white charcoal drawing of a dog, as well as a full-bleed painted illustration of each dog amongst a black background.  I feel that this sort of illustration highlights the importance of dogs, as it reminds me of the way a president's portrait would be painted.    

To be fair, I have a bunny, too! 
Good Dog is an excellent book of poems to be used in conjunction with fluency and expressive reading practice, especially for young readers and people who cherish their precious pooches. However, I wish the book had been a little longer, as there are sixteen poems, and all of them are relatively short.  I would have preferred for the author to write about good dogs that may have come from a shelter and now to get to glorify in their new homes!  I also would have enjoyed reading a selection of poetry focused on this topic that included a trifle more vivid language, rich expressions, and other poetic devices.  While the poems are funny, cute, or sweet, they are not particularly enriching, nor do they demonstrate writing of the highest caliber.  Even so, I would like to use some of the poems in Good Dog to encourage my students to be expressive as oral readers and speakers. 

Interestingly, Maya Gottfried and Robert Rahway Zakanitch have worked together on other literacy projects.  In fact, it seems that all of Maya's books have been illustrated by Robert.  I could not find an exclusive website devoted to Maya's work, but her works are listed on her Amazon page if you are interested in viewing this book or any others that she has written.  

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