Initially, Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann (Roaring Brook, July 2011) left me both incredibly impressed by the gorgeous illustrations and a bit wary of the ghoulish setting for the story. I’ve mentioned before that I am not a fan of Halloween; Bone Dog is a Halloween picture book, complete with a visit to a graveyard and a haunting by skeletons. I’m not sure preschool aged kids need that spookiness. Yet, as a whole, this Halloween book gives a sweet message of friendship beyond the grave for a child dealing with the death of a dog, and the humorous bits lighten the creepiness factor for kids.
Gus and his dog Ella have been friends for a long time; they do everything together. One day, Ella tells Gus she’s not going to be around much longer, promising to always be there with him. When she is gone (Rohmann never uses the word “die”), Gus is understandably sad, but still tries to do the things he needs to do, like his chores. He goes trick-or-treating, even though he didn’t feel like it, and this is where he has a graveyard adventure. Ella, now a bone dog, comes to his side as she had always before. Together, they find a rather humorous way to get rid of their haunted companions.
To my surprise, my son (4) loved the book. Being just four, he can’t articulate what he loved about it, and I had to remind him of the word for “skeleton” (“There was one of those guys in my Halloween party yesterday at preschool!”)) and define “graveyard” for him. He liked the Halloween trick-or-treat side of it, and he enjoyed watching the dogs chase in the humorous ending. It seemed to me that he appreciated the after-life friendship from the skeleton dog, and he was not “scared” of it but rather accepting of the fact that friends at first are friends at last.
Therefore, while as a parent I wonder what ages will be ready to read a picture book about deceased pets, haunted Halloween graveyards, and other macabre details, Eric Rohmann’s deliciously illustrated ghost story may be just what other children need to deal with the death of a pet or to appreciate the magic that comes from remembering the bond of friendship beyond the grave. My favorite aspect is the gorgeous illustrations. I thought they look like watercolor but I read somewhere they are “hand-colored relief prints.”
At any rate, Bone Dog is a lovely book that may (or may not) be just right for your child, especially this Halloween season. If it sounds like something your child might like, look it up!
Nominated for Cybils 2011 by Jill Tullo. I read a library copy of this book and was not compensated for review.