Can't say I'm heavy into dogs. (Sorry.) And particularly not, I hate to say it, poodles. Well, this book is written by and about a poodle in all her poodle-ness. So I was surprised when even I, a hardened anti-poodle person, was won over by this delightful tale. The Other Dog is Madeleine L'Engle's picture book debut. Based on the true tale of her own talented pet's experience coping with a new baby in the house, The Other Dog has all the makings and feel of a classic that has been around a long, long time. Touche L'Engle-Franklin (the poodle author) grows suspicious when one day her mistress goes away for a few days and returns with a new dog. Only this dog is a very inferior breed. It has to be fed all the time. It has to wear white things called diapers. And worst of all, it has no tail and no fur. It's a breed called "baby."
This is a wonderfully unique take on the perennial crisis for families: how to help young children welcome a new baby into the home. The refrain of "So why another dog?" follows Touche's amusing attempts to show just how appealing and ideal a dog she is. She's been a stage star, she can dance, she's good at sitting on laps. In fact, she does everything perfectly. "So why another dog?" Christine Davenier's lively illustrations portray the precocious pooch perfectly.
The Other Dog opens the door for children to talk about how they feel about the coming of a new baby. Encouraging dialogue by means of a talking dog is a stroke of genius that will engage children all the more perhaps a protective response to Touche's hurt feelings. As the star character becomes less suspicious and starts to befriend the "new dog," we start to see the good she recognizes in the new arrival: there's still plenty of love to go around and sometimes there's something even more fun than being one it's being two.
The type design is as playful as the poodle herself and the tender illustrations by Christine Davenier lend the tale an almost nostalgic feel that adds to the sense that this is a book we've long loved. And I'm certain it is one that we always will.
Sally Lloyd Jones is a children's book writer who lives in the city that belongs to dogs, New York City.