cover image A Dog Like Jack

A Dog Like Jack

DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan. Holiday House, $17.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-1369-0

This realistic picture book about loving and losing a first pet will likely join the ranks of Judith Viorst's The Tenth Good Thing About Barney with its unsentimental, honest approach. ""Jack was eight years old when our family adopted him from the animal shelter. That's fifty-six in dog years,"" begins narrator Mike, pictured in a stroller. As the boy grows older, he and Jack develop rituals--trick-or-treating with themed Halloween costumes (boy as shepherd, dog as sheep), Saturday games of hide-and-seek in the park and the simple joy of a shared ice cream cone (""I'd save the last licks for him,"" says Mike). They even celebrate the same birthday. Inevitably, when Mike turns eight, Jack turns 91 and can no longer partake of their annual traditions, yet the spreads continue to depict an unbreakable bond between the pair. Jack dies in the final pages, and a swirling portrait depicts mother, father and son in a sorrowful embrace that emits both sadness and comfort. In succeeding pages even nature mourns: leafless trees with outspread limbs curve over mother and son on a walk through the park (""Do people live longer than dogs?"" asks the boy). The narration never strikes a false note; even on the last spread, when Mike spies a dog in the park, he harbors mixed emotions. DiSalvo-Ryan (Now We Can Have a Wedding!) captures the essence of the ineffable connection between a child and his pet in her artwork while remaining completely within the child's sensibility in her text. Ages 3-8. (Mar.)