Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Dog

POETRY BOOK REVIEW: NEW BOOK-- A new, favorite book of poetry for children or teens published since 2005

Gottfried, Maya. 2005. Good dog. Robert Rahway Zakanitch, painter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Good Dog by Maya Gottfried is a dog lover’s book. Sixteen poems characterize some of the world’s most popular dogs people own as pets. In fact, the dogs represented in Good Dog are the dogs one sees most often that look like their owners! Each poem is written in the voice of a particular dog. The voice of the dog is true to its character. Accompanying the poems are paintings of dogs. Whimsical, but true to life, Robert Rahway Zakanitch captures the essence of each dog. In the paintings, each dog is set against a very dark, blackish background. The dogs look directly at the reader as they sit, roll, or pant; each with a doleful look on their faces. My best analysis of these paintings is that the dogs are just downright cute!

The humor and sweetness depicted in the poems and the paintings are appealing to children. The first poem is filled with commands to a white, good-natured Westie, sitting attentively on the adjacent page: “Sit / Stay / Fetch / Heel “(Gottfried 2005, p. 1). Turn the page and a stout-bodied chow is the one giving commands, “Listen up! / It’s time to go. / Get the leash. / Let’s hit the road” (p. 2). In the chow’s poem, he tells us that he has a bone to pick with a Chihuahua. That same Chihuahua appears a few pages later talking about chasing that big dog! (p. 7). Featured after the chow is a Pekingese whose poem is a memo to his owner saying how sorry he is about the accident on the piano, the hair on the suit, and the chewed up shoes (p. 5). The nice touch in the paintings is that the breed of the dog is identified within the painting; for example, below the portrait of the Pekingese, the word, “Pekingese” is painted.

The poems match the paintings. In fact, if the poems and paintings were mixed topsy-turvy, I believe they could be matched back up. None of the poems have an “official” title; the title (the breed of the dog) is written in the painting.

There is rhyme in some of the poems, (the “chow” poem), but the poems are written mainly in free verse. There are instances of onomatopoeia in the Pomeranian poem; dog sounds that children love, “A dog must GRRR! And ARF! And WOOF!” (p.11). Alliteration appears in the same poem – “powder puff” (p. 11) – the Pomeranian is certainly a powder puff. In his painted portrait, the little, round dog is exaggeratedly fat; a circle of orange fluff.
My favorite poem is the Maltese’s “wedding vow” poem.

Do you take this dog to be your friend?
Will you see her through tangles and mats?
Through dog days and kennel stays?
Do you promise to put down your book
when she sits upon your lap?
And be faithful to her, and her alone?
As long as you both shall live?

I do. (p. 15)

It’s an excellent commentary on the commitment required between dog owner and pet, and simply imaginative in its composition.

Children will laugh as they read the poems, or if someone reads the poems to them; more so if they have a dog that is the same breed as the ones in the book. Overall, the poems speak of all things dog: tricks, dog-walking and leashes, chasing sticks, chewing, chasing cats. I like the allusion to James Herriot, or James Alfred Wight, who wrote All Things Great and Small in the tribute by Zakanitch to his daughter, Amelia. He writes, “I’d like to thank my daughter, Amelia, whose love and compassion for dogs (and all creatures great and small) were a real inspiration during the making of this book” (p. dedication). This poetry book would be a great poetry break for a lesson to introduce James Herriot and his works.


Gottfried, Maya. 2005. Good dog. Robert Rahway Zakanitch, painter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Dedication, 1,2, 5, 7, 11, 15.

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