Thursday, April 7, 2011

City Dog, Country Frog, written by Mo Willems and illustrated by Jon Muth (2010)

City Dog, Country FrogThis collaboration between two of the most gifted storytellers currently creating picture books  is, quite simply, one of the most exquisite books I've seen in a long time.   I dare you to read it without wiping your eyes.  I'm actually little disappointed that it was not a Caldecott medalist (though I can also see how it might be too subtle and too sad to gain broad appeal).  As much as I've enjoyed A Sick Day for Amos McGee, City Dog, Country Frog is that much more breathtaking, more moving, more profound.

At first glance, City Dog seems rather a departure for Mo Willems (whose work I briefly discuss in my recent Pigeon post).  It seems far more in line with Jon J. Muth's quiet, solemn, understated Zen trilogy (Zen Ties, Zen Shorts, and Zen Ghosts).  But truly, this volume is a perfect blend of both creators' signature styles.  In the case of Willems, this is most apparent in the skillful ways he addresses adult and child readers on different planes; Muth, too, achieves a similar effect through his delicate, suggestive, achingly poignant watercolors.  For young children, this is a story of the joy and power of friendship---especially with those very different from ourselves---as well as a journey through the seasons.  For adults (or older children), attuned to the symbolism of the changing seasons and able to fill in the Great Unspoken---why Country Frog, who is so tired in the Fall, disappears from his rock come Winter---it is a gentle, sensitively-drawn reflection on the cycle of life, on love, grief, renewal, and legacy.

Miss E's Read:  "I like Spring, Summer, and Fall, but not Winter, because it's too sad."  Interestingly, she did become suddenly uncomfortable---rushing me through the Winter pages---during the saddest pages of the book; she could articulate that it was sad but couldn't (or wouldn't?) articulate why it was so sad or what happened to Frog.

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