May 03, 2007


Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug. By Mark Newgarden & Megan Montague Cash. Harcourt. $12.95.

Donkey-Donkey. By Roger Duvoisin. Knopf. $15.99.

      Sometimes a title contains all the words a book needs. In the case of Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug, the title is all the words the book gets. The whole story here is silent, a fact that does not keep it from being involving, amusing and even surprisingly surrealistic. Bow-Wow, who seems to be a Scottish terrier, catches sight of a bug while eating breakfast one morning, and decides to follow it. That’s the whole plot – but Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash take it into as many byways as you can imagine, and maybe a few more. Most of the time, the bug is simply a black dot, and that means it can, for example, merge into a Dalmatian’s spots – or is that a white dog covered with bugs? Sometimes, though, the bug has legs and a head, so it can greet another bug the same way Bow-Wow greets another, near-identical dog – a greeting that turns into a hilarious juxtaposition of expressions and even of costumes (and don’t ask where the dress-up items appear from; that would spoil the fun). Then there’s the time Bow-Wow, still following his bug, comes across a HUGE bug…followed by a REALLY HUGE dog. In fact, it turns out that all sorts of dogs are out following bugs on this fine day – and if dogs follow bugs, then is it possible that bugs…well, follow that thought, and follow Bow-Wow, and you’ll get an answer you might not expect. Bow-Wow eventually follows the bug back home – the bug apparently knows the way well – and the final scene, of Bow-Wow asleep on his dog bed with the bug nearby, is both funny and touching. Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug is quite a book – and not a word in it.

      The appearance of Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug is quite modern, while the look of Donkey-Donkey is that of an earlier era – specifically 1933, when Roger Duvoisin’s book was first published. This was the second book by Duvoisin (1900-1980), and it originally had black-and-white illustrations. An edition with color pictures came out in 1940 and is now available anew. Duvoisin was well known as an illustrator, but his books tend to be balanced just about equally between words and pictures, and it is really the stories that carry them forward. Donkey-Donkey offers children the familiar but always welcome message that they should be themselves and not try to imitate anyone else. The animal of the title has many friends and a master who is “the kindest man in the village,” but he is unhappy because he has super-long ears that stick straight up. He can’t make them small, like those of his horse friend, Pat, so he starts asking his other friends for advice on how to look better. The floppy-eared dog tells Donkey-Donkey to put his ears down; the lamb, goat and cow, whose ears stick straight out, tell him to make his point outwards; and so on. But every time Donkey-Donkey tries to carry his ears as another animal does, something goes wrong – he gets injured or mocked. It takes a wise little sparrow to remind Donkey-Donkey that he isn’t any of those other animals and should carry his ears just as donkeys do. Then a comment from a little girl that the donkey’s ears are beautiful nicely rounds off a word-filled story whose pictures are quite a pleasure as well.

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