Rachel had a dog that she didn’t have.
Yes, she had that dog. Even though she didn’t have it.
The dog that Rachel didn’t have was soft. And sweet. And obedient. And clever. And probably a Welsh corgi.
Rachel didn’t have that dog.
And Rachel was just fine with that.
Edward van de Vendel’s The Dog That Nino Didn’t Have has been receiving high praise in recent weeks. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, and Booklist went one better — giving it both a star and a special full-page feature. Minh Le declared that it “might be the most visually jaw-dropping book of the year,” and the Society of Illustrators seemed to feel the same way, since it awarded Anton Van Hertbruggen’s illustrations a Silver Medal in its annual Original Art exhibition.
All these positive reviews warm me right down to my toes. I love The Dog That Nino Didn’t Have — I always have — for every one of the reasons cited by these distinguished reviewers.
I love its poignancy and gentle pathos.
I love the way it speaks with empathy to kids who, like Nino, are missing loved ones far away.
I love its retro art, which brings to my mind fond memories of flipping through my dad’s stack of vintage Boy’s Life magazines.
I love the way it makes me almost laugh and almost cry each time I read it.
More than any of these things, though, (if I’m honest) I love it simply for its basic premise:
Nino had a dog that he didn’t have.
There are dozens of wonderful picture books out there celebrating kids and their dogs — Henry and Mudge; Harry the Dirty Dog; Biscuit; Good Dog, Carl; even Walter the Farting Dog — but this is the first one I’ve ever encountered that truly celebrates kids and their not-dogs.
And in my house, we’ve needed a book like that for a long time.
You see, my kids love dogs. At least, they think they do. They love the idea of having a dog — and they ask me fairly regularly when we’ll be getting one.
My response to this question usually runs something along these lines: “We have a pet baby. When our pet baby is completely housebroken, maybe we can talk about getting a pet dog.”
The trouble with this lovely, simple answer, however, is that I’m quickly running up against my own deadline: our adorable pet baby is now an adorable pet toddler — one who’s dangerously close to being potty trained. And my husband and I still aren’t ready to take the plunge.
Sure, sure: we could just break down and adopt a dog, except . . . except I have a nagging hunch that, just like Nino, my kids love the dog we don’t have in a very different way than they will love the dog we do have (when we finally have it).
The dog we don’t have doesn’t chew shoes or scratch holes in screens or leave “presents” all over the lawn. The dog we don’t have loves to fetch a stick and be patted on the head a few times a day, but it doesn’t carry off the ball when we’re trying to play soccer or jump on our laps when we’re trying to cuddle up and read a book together.
The dog we don’t have doesn’t steal the last piece of pizza off the counter when no one’s looking.
I know that, some day, things may be different. When that day comes I, like Nino, will love the “dog I have now” — shedding, chewing, slobbering, jumping, and all.
But that day is still at least a little way off for us. While we wait, I expect we’ll come back often to visit Nino and the sweet “dog that he didn’t have.” They remind us helpfully that we, too, can take great delight in all the dogs we do not have — and also, for that matter, in “the not-hippopotamus and the not-rhinoceros. The imaginary giraffe. The make-believe bear.”
And with that hopeful conclusion, I’ve suddenly forgotten all about the Welsh corgi, because . . .
Rachel has an otter that she doesn’t have.
And a not-elk and a not-hedgehog. An imaginary blue heron. A make-believe snow leopard.
Rachel doesn’t have any of them!
Not a single one!
* * *
About Rachel in Review:
Life for this kid lit enthusiast and working mother of four can be messy. Confusing. Painful. Funny. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Enter the Eerdmans books. So, so many of our books, whether they’re bedtime books for babies or coming-of-age novels for young adults, seem to have a single uncannily common quality about them: they just fit. These wise, wonderful books somehow manage to tie into — and by so doing, help me sort out — the knotty complexities of life as I actually experience them.