January 05, 2017


Love Is My Favorite Thing. By Emma Chichester Clark. Nancy Paulsen Books. $16.99.

Plenty of Love to Go Around. By Emma Chichester Clark. Nancy Paulsen Books. $17.99.

     There is always room for one more book about an ultra-adorable dog and the human family with which it bonds and in which it occasionally misbehaves. Or two more books. Actually, Emma Chichester Clark’s stories of Plum are so cute that two will scarcely be enough for most readers – not only the kids for whom the books are written, but also adults, who will surely find themselves reading over their children’s shoulders and chuckling, perhaps a bit wryly, at the unintentional mischief that big-hearted but rambunctious Plum gets into.

     Plum is very definitely based on Clark’s own dog, a whippet-poodle-Jack Russell terrier mix, and anyone who knows those breeds will immediately realize that Plum will be shown as smart, quick, and pretty much unable to keep still – not to mention being hard to catch when on a run. Clark created the Plumdog Blog online to explore the adventures of her dog, but these two books go beyond utterly real antics into the sort of heartwarming stories for which first-rate picture books are an ideal medium. In the first book, Love Is My Favorite Thing, Plum explores, through utterly charming and disarming illustrations, all her favorite parts of life: different kinds of weather, her toy bear, her bed, sticks of all sorts, and the two children who live next door to Emma and Rupert, Plum’s human family. A park scene is particularly intricate and well-done, including a couple of people picking up after their dogs as Plum comments on how she gets praised “when I do a poo, as if it’s so, so clever.” Yes, dog owners behave exactly that way. Unfortunately, irrepressible Plum gets so excited at the park that she does not listen to Emma, runs through a fence, and splashes around in a pond, because she loves water so much – and later, at home, after a scolding, she tries to apologize by bringing the neighbor kids, Sam and Gracie, a pillow. But then she forgets the apology and starts playing tug-of-war – with wholly predictable (and wonderfully drawn and extremely messy) results. Poor Plum is in the doghouse (figuratively) and worried that no one will love her anymore – by far her biggest worry and, one assumes, the biggest worry of any well-loved dog. Things do not get better as the day goes on: released from her time-out and back in the park, Plum cannot help but notice all the kids eating ice cream, especially one toddler who drops his cone in a bag without his parents noticing. Plum loves ice cream and just has to have what has, after all, been dropped, so she snatches the bag – and ends up being chased by a crowd that seems to include everyone in the park. Plum runs home and realizes that she has made “THE MOST ABSOLUTELY AWFUL MISTAKE!” Emma marches her downstairs and leaves her in her bed in the dark, with Plum worrying, “Would they ever love me again?” Plum’s apologetic and worried postures are perfectly shown, as is her enthusiasm when she runs and grabs and generally overdoes everything through unending canine enthusiasm. Of course Emma and Rupert hold and cuddle her at the book’s end, and everything ends with Plum promising to try to be good – an attempt belied by the hilarious final picture.

     Love Is My Favorite Thing is so wonderful that it is hard to see where its newly released sequel,  Plenty of Love to Go Around, can go. But have no fear! There is more to Plum’s story! In this sequel (which, however, can easily stand on its own), Plum encounters an interloper: Binky, a cat who moves in next door. Plus has many favorite things, but cats are not among them – and besides, if the people in Plum’s life love Binky, will there be enough love left over for Plum? This sounds like a rather treacly plot, but it does not come across that way, because Plum’s worries are handled so endearingly and with so much understanding – and Binky is not a foil for Plum but a fine neighbor and would-be friend, following Plum everywhere (even to the park, which Plum has always thought is just for dogs, and which Clark shows in another of her very best illustrations). Watching Binky imitate Plum in everything – even peeing when Plum pees, assuming the same position to do so – is highly amusing. And when cat and dog accidentally get locked in a shed and Binky escapes and brings help, readers will take Binky immediately to heart (for her part, Plum is seen worrying after Binky squeezes out under the shed door, “Now no one will ever find me”). Sam and Gracie certainly adore the cat and compliment him for rescuing Plum, but Plum only feels worse as Binky climbs a tree – something Plum cannot do – and Sam says, “He can do anything.” Plum laments, “Now Binky was the Special One.” Clearly some raising of self-esteem is in order – even after Plum’s friend Rocket assures her that “there’s plenty of love to go around.” Plum, not believing it, does something rather mean, leaning against the cat door so Binky, who wants to come in to play, cannot get back inside. Even when it starts to rain, Plum does not relent – and Emma, fortuitously returning and bringing a damp-but-not-sodden Binky inside, figures out what happened and explains to Plum that “there’s room in our hearts for him and for YOU!” And at last, Plum realizes that she too has room in her heart for Binky. The final picture of the two of them sleeping peacefully in Plum’s dog bed promises the beginning of a beautiful friendship – which kids and parents alike will fervently hope that Clark will continue to chronicle in additional Plum books.

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