This wonderful book by author-illustrator Richard Byrne details the series of small disasters that occur when a young girl’s dog suddenly disappears in the middle of the page. When she decides to take her dog on a walk, Bella discovers that her dog has vanished, and right into the gutter of the book. She tries to recruit help, first from her friend Ben, then from the dog rescue, then from the fire station and police. One by one, they too fall into the gutter, leaving Bella holding onto her vanished dog’s leash until she is sucked into the figurative black hole. The day is saved, however, thanks to a note Bella manages to shove back onto the page. With a bit of audience participation, everything that disappeared is shaken back out, even if not in the same order as before.
This book fully takes advantage of its physical structure, creating a surreal world in which each character knows and understands that they are in a book, and each also recognizes the dangerous pitfalls that come with such an existence. While this trick is not new to adult literature, for young children just beginning to read, this kind of acknowledgement of the absurd nature of stories does not often appear. In the case of This Book Just Ate My Dog, it comes in the form of a humorous story with sketch-like illustrations in vivid color and with zany adventures. Indeed, the writing suits the subject well, using font size and color and a final deus ex machina in the form of a reader-directed note to draw the audience into the story.
Though this story offers little in the way of a moral or academic education aside from a few higher level words, it is still highly entertaining. The protagonist, despite the confusing circumstances she finds herself in when her dog is swallowed whole, manages to keep her head and rescue everyone that fell into the gutter with her. In the final few moments of the book, Bella’s letter to the audience will delight young readers as they rattle the book and help the characters tumble headfirst back into the story. Each scene is essential to the story, communicating motion and a rising sense of panic through a few well-composed facial expressions and increasingly large text. Though the book may feel a tad predictable to older children, they will also be more likely to appreciate the humor of the book, both in its premise and its execution.
For children just beginning to read independently, this book will come as a welcome change from other stories through its self awareness and habit of breaking through the fourth wall. Indeed, though parents may be able to read this book with young children, it is the older readers that will truly enjoy this wacky tale.
Review by: Veronica Kittle-Kamp