May 24, 2018

Sun Dog

Written by Deborah Kerbel
Illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
May 2018

Falling asleep at night during the summer can be difficult in the Arctic because the sun never falls below the horizon, hence its moniker of "land of the midnight sun." Imagine being a little pup who knows she's supposed to go to bed with her boy but feels compelled to go outside and play. This is Juno, the Husky pup who lives with her boy in "a red house overlooking a faraway town perched on the edge of an invisible circle at the very top of the world.
From Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Suzanne Del Rizzo
Juno, born in the spring, loves the sun and playing outdoors, though she yearns to be big like the sled dogs.  But when her boy goes to bed, Juno isn't ready to sleep. The pup sneaks out to play but finds the world a strange place to be without her boy. "She feels like an iceberg adrift on a giant sea.
From Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Suzanne Del Rizzo
But when a polar bear approaches the house whose door Juno left open in her rush to go outside, the little dog finds a storehouse of courage within her big heart and is able to withstand her fear and give warning and, with a little help, keep her boy safe.

Children will love the story of Juno as Sun Dog, not least of which because she is an adorable dog, thanks to Suzanne Del Rizzo's elaborate and emotive dimensional art.  But I think that Deborah Kerbel's message that "Juno might be little, but there's a big dog inside her" is an meaningful one for young children who often feel too little to do anything significant and wish to be big so they can stay up late or go somewhere alone or just not be hindered by their youth or size. Juno takes it upon herself to do all those things, though she puts herself and others in danger.  Still, that small body holds a big heart filled with love for her boy and life and from that a boundless courage bursts forth.  Juno may have been frightened but she did all she could to ensure a happy ending.

The joy of being outside and the beauty of the Arctic landscape are beautifully conveyed through Suzanne Del Rizzo's artwork.  I've oohed and aahed over her polymer clay and acrylic paint art that graced her own My Beautiful Birds and other picture books and Sun Dog is no exception.  Those summer skies of yellow, pink, purple, and blue, with many shades in between, took me to that land of the midnight sun and the home of children who rarely saw themselves in books. Within that landscape, Suzanne Del Rizzo brought playfulness and charm, with the reality necessary to tell Deborah Kerbel's sweet story.
From Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Suzanne Del Rizzo
It's lovely for me to review books by creators like Deborah Kerbel and Suzanne Del Rizzo whose work I've seen transform and evolve with each imaginative work.  Now, with their collaboration, a charming story has been synthesized from message and art into the brilliant and heart-warming combination that is Sun Dog.

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