"It was a great day for a picnic," begins Marc Simont's lovely, touching, happy-ending picture book, The Stray Dog. And indeed, judging from the opening spread's clear skies, sparkling water, zooming boats, and adventure-bound cars it looks to be so. The story begins as a scruffy little dog makes an appearance at a family's picnic. The children name him Willy, and by the end of the day they desperately want to take him home. The family drives away, but all week they can think of nothing but their new furry friend. They return to picnic at the same spot the very next week, much to Willy's good fortune--and that of the newly smitten family.
As in all the best illustrated children's books, Simont lets his pictures tell the story. We don't have to be told how wrenching it is for the kids to leave Willy behind--we see their small outstretched arms out the car window and the puppy watching them go. Simont doesn't have to tell us that the next Saturday the family is completely preoccupied with the possibility of another Willy sighting. We see the family, silent, munching, and just to the side is a plate of meat they've put out, just in case. Young readers will adore this simple tale of puppy love, but adults will be equally charmed. Simont illustrated his first book in 1939, and since then has illustrated nearly 100 titles, including the 1949 Caldecott Honor Book The Happy Day, by Ruth Krauss and Janice May Udry's A Tree Is Nice, winner of the 1957 Caldecott Medal. This book is our favorite so far of the year! (Ages 4 to 8) --Karin Snelson