Dogphabet. Illustrations by Meredith Jensen. Harper by Design.
This book is as notable for what it does not do as for what it does. What it does not do is take the expected approach to an alphabet book built
around dogs – as in “A is for Afghan, B is for Beagle, C is for Cocker Spaniel,
D is for Dachshund,” and so forth. Instead, each letter of the alphabet goes
with a descriptive word that applies to a certain type of dog – and then there
are additional words explaining why
the description is appropriate.
Exactly who wrote the descriptions is a bit of a mystery – no author is
credited, although there is an editor (Madeleine James). As for the illustrations
(which are credited, to Meredith
Jensen), they manage to convey what various breeds really look like while at
the same time cleverly reflecting the words describing each breed’s behavior as
outlined in the words.
For example, “E is for Edgy” leads to a paragraph about Boxers, “alert
guard dogs that like to protect their families and homes.” The illustration
shows a Boxer wearing an official-looking cap and holding a flashlight in its
mouth. “H is for Hypoallergenic” discusses Labradoodles, “used around the world
as hypoallergenic assistance and therapy dogs,” and shows three people cuddling
a happy pup and burying their faces in its coat. “P is for Personality”
features Chihuahuas, “curious and bold, and demanding if overindulged,” and shows
one sitting on a throne and wearing a suitably tiny crown.
This clever approach to the letters makes it possible for Dogphabet to introduce some
less-than-ideal aspects of certain breeds – as in the comment on the Chihuahua
– while still showcasing each dog’s special charms. “S is for Stubborn” shows a
French Bulldog refusing to be pulled along by a leash and notes that these dogs
are “equal parts frustrating and delightful.” And “D is for Digging” notes that
Border Terriers, “given a lack of supervision and enough time alone,” will “dig
under, climb over or even through a fence in order to explore.”
Despite any negatives associated with specific breeds, all the dogs shown in Dogphabet look like a lot of fun to have around. The Jack Russell
Terrier, a dog well-known to be “full of boundless energy,” is on display eight
times, bouncing around in a circle, because “J is for Jumping.” The Great Dane,
suitably placed at “M is for Massive,” not only towers over two people holding
its very long and strong leash but also looms over the tops of buildings shown
in the background. Bichon Frisés, “resembling a fluffy child’s toy,” are
described as “the cheerleaders of the dog world” and shown piled atop one
another in a cheerleader-style pyramid – 21 of them in all, the one on top
waving two pennants saying “Yay!”
In fact, “yay!” is a pretty good word for the entirety of Dogphabet, which manages to take the scarcely unusual concept of merging the letters of the alphabet with a variety of dog breeds and turn the combination into something amusing and quite delightful, from A (Aloof = Dalmatian) to Z (Zany = Pug). And for readers who really do want the dogs in alphabetical order, there is a treat at the end of the book, where all the pups from the preceding pages are presented alphabetically and described in a few suitable and accurate words in terms of life span, likes and dislikes. Dogphabet is not intended to urge readers to seek out any specific breed of dog, but for those who are already doing exactly that, it just might tip the scales in one adorable direction or another.