cover image Dog Heaven

Dog Heaven

Cynthia Rylant. Scholastic, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-590-41701-3

Newbery winner Rylant, who debuted as an illustrator with her Everyday board books (1993), offers paintings and text in tribute to ``Dog Heaven.'' Here there are fields to run in, soft beds (made of clouds turned inside out) and ``angel children,'' because ``God knows that dogs love children more than anything else in the world.'' Rylant's childlike acrylic paintings-similar though less practiced than the work of Lucy Cousins-are filled with checkerboard steps, yellow daisies and pink stars. Whether she is aiming for whimsy, albeit self-consciously, or striving to present a genuinely comforting view of heaven is not entirely clear. God, for example, stands like an organ grinder at a biscuit machine, wearing a purple hat and sporting a white mustache. ``God has a sense of humor,'' Rylant tells us, ``so He makes His biscuits in funny shapes... kitty-cat biscuits and squirrel biscuits,'' and ``every angel who passes by has a biscuit for a dog'' because ``every dog becomes a good dog in Dog Heaven.'' Many will think Rylant's vision appropriately warm and fuzzy; others will consider her on thin ice, psychologically and theologically. Dead animals invisibly return to earth ``for a little visit,'' a development likely to unsettle young mourners; told that dogs in Dog Heaven will be ``at the door'' when ``old friends show up,'' many children are going to worry about how those old friends got there. All ages. (Sept.)