cover image The Old Dog

The Old Dog

Charlotte Zolotow. HarperCollins, $18.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-06-024409-5

With pensive, autumnal oils, Ransome (Aunt Flossie's Hats & Crab Cakes Later) tenderly illustrates this quiet book about the death of a pet. Each full-page painting faces a text page bordered with a panel of fallen leaves-a fitting symbol of the natural but painful close of the life cycle. Ben, the African American protagonist, discovers that his old dog has died. The ordinary events that follow help define both what it means to die (``Ben went to pat his dog good morning. She didn't open her eyes'') and to mourn (``He walked to school slowly, and when he came home, old dog wasn't at the door to meet him''). Ben grieves over the dog; in a particularly moving, uncaptioned painting, Ransome shows Ben using his fists to block the tears in his eyes. In the half-expected conclusion, his parents bring home a new puppy. Coming so abruptly on the heels of Ben's well-explicated sorrow, the boy's instant joy rings a bit false. Nonetheless, Zolotow's simple, comprehensible insights into death redeem the formula ending. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)