February 05, 2009


The One and Only Marigold. By Florence Parry Heide. Illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Schwartz & Wade. $16.99.

Loose Leashes. Poems by Amy Schmidt. Photographs by Ron Schmidt. Random House. $16.99.

     Stories and pictures of young kids and dogs never grow old – certainly not for children ages 3-8. And the evidence indicates that Florence Parry Heide never grows old, either, even though she is now 89. The author of the Treehorn books (illustrated by Edward Gorey in his inimitable style) has created a brand-new heroine – a little monkey with expressive tail and hair that stands straight up, like a field of wheat – in The One and Only Marigold. The four linked stories in the book feature Marigold, a self-described “very loyal person,” refusing to replace her old purple coat; creating a new hobby of bugging her best friend, Maxine (Marigold’s previous hobby was inventing ugly faces); setting up a “treasure stand” instead of a lemonade stand; and refusing to wear new clothes to school because she “hated every single thing that was in her closet.” What is special here is the working-out of the stories rather than the plots themselves. In the final “clothing” tale, for instance (“Marigold’s New Dress”), Marigold ends up in her old purple coat and an orange hat pulled over her ears, while her best-friend-again Maxine (who, by the way, is a hippopotamus) shows up to go to school in a new skirt, jacket and knee socks. Marigold, embarrassed, starts saying all the new things she has on as well, but won’t show any of them. Her claims get wilder and wilder (“I dyed my hair purple and I have a new spike haircut”), and Maxine realizes what is going on, so Maxine goes home for a moment and returns in “a raincoat and a green cap that came down over her ears.” That’s what friends are for, and that’s what friendship is all about, but there’s nothing even the slightest bit preachy in Heide’s writing – everything flows naturally and charms throughout. Jill McElmurry’s wonderful illustrations capture Marigold, Maxine, Marigold’s mother and the other characters here just perfectly. One two-page spread – in which Marigold parades by while people of all sizes, shapes and colors say or think “who’s that?” – is absolutely hilarious, with every character given a unique personality, from the saxophone player to the pirate with the popcorn. Here’s hoping The One and Only Marigold will not be the one and only Marigold book.

     Loose Leashes is the first picture book by Amy Schmidt, but it is clear that she and her photographer husband, Ron, could go far with their approach. The book is a collection of photos of real dogs in amusing (or sometimes ordinary) postures, with poetic descriptions of what is, or might be, going on. Pictures and words intertwine beautifully, as in “Love,” which features a small dog, with flower in mouth, looking up at a Great Dane high above: “Can you feel my eyes upon you, melting you with my stare?/ I know we’re very different. We’d make an awkward pair.” And so on. Add in the dogs’ names, Moose and Mini, and the fact that Moose is the small dog, and you have a thoroughly delightful double-dog portrait. For a single-dog one, consider Honey, a pampered pooch seen perched in a sink, a towel entwined around her head, with a poem that starts, “I will not go to the groomer/ And won’t be washed outside./ To be bathed in a public place/ Is quite undignified.” Then there are Pip and Squeak, both holding onto a bone that seems to be bigger than either of them; Stinky, seen in the bathtub with a rubber duck atop his head; and more. The pooches’ expressions are beautifully captured in the photos, the poems are fun and funny, and the “furry facts” at the end add some amusing sidelights to the doggy doings. Four woofs!

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