Hot Dog by Doug Salati (Random House, May 2022) contrasts the oppressive heat of a busy city in summer with the bright freedom and delight of an open beach. The nameless dog obviously swelters in the sun and then delights it in as he leaps across the sand and splashes in cool blue waves.
It’s clear why this book was awarded the Newbery Medal in 2023. Salati wonderfully emphasizes the contrasts in feelings with his art. In the city, constrained and tight image frames show zoomed in snapshots of the movement from errand to errand, the crowds of people, and the abundance of vehicles surrounding. The sound is almost audible as the taxi and fire truck are split into two separate frames to complete one picture. The heat is emphasized in the warm yellows, browns, and oranges. Our dog is a red-brown Dachshund and its owner is a red-haired woman, making the story even hotter with their colors. The only images of the city sky is a sliver of yellow-orange with a bright white sun in between the yellow-brown buildings.
But once the dog stops in the middle of the street and refuses to move, the woman owner has had enough. The escape is slow at first, but a scene of the train on the move now shows a yellow-green sky giving way to blue, as the frame disappears. Riding the ferry, the sky turns into a brilliant blue and the rectangular shape of the scenes transfers into a vansishing, soft edge. At the beach, the image zooms out into a full two-page spread, looking down on doll-sized living things: just the woman and her dog. The cool blues and greens begin to fade in a sunset, but now the yellows feel cool and welcoming. The wispy sky shows wave-like strokes, reminding of the cool waves of the sea. And even though the train is now crowded, the riders are all shown in bright colors: magenta, turquoise, and bright red and yellow. The evening sky is cool blue, even after the city return, and a windy scene emphasizes the woman’s and dog’s bright hair and fur, rather than the building colors. A city fountain and an open bedroom window end the book as the dog dreams of again swimming in the sea.
The art woud have been enough. But Salati’s masterpiece for young children is not just told through the art. The words on the city page spreads are short: “City summer, steamy sidewalks.” Incomplete sentences, short words, and biting words like steam and screech add to the claustrophobia. The alliteration and orange colored text doesn’t help.
Reaching the train and then the beach changes the tone of the text. The words shift to ones with space: unfolding, whiff, wild, and low. Multiple pages have no text at all as the reader relaxes into the space. And, even as they return to the city, words carry the calm with us, with peaceful alliteration: “sun sings down, swallowed by the sea/ moon rises, skyline shimmers . . . rumble and hum.”
Hot Dog is perfect for vacation, a summer’s day, bedtime, and pretty much anytime. It wasn’t my favorite when I first read it. But now the rhythm of text reminds me of “Goodnight, Moon” (one of my favorites to read aloud). And, the gentle illustrations are certainly more relaxing in the end.