Friday, November 6, 2015


     As you may know, I am a complete sucker for dog stories. Both real and invisible.
     Nostalgia is the emotion that came to mind as I read this story. The book has such a strong European feel to it that without looking at the writer or illustrator's name, I correctly guessed its overseas roots. But the theme is timeless and it is one of Publisher's Weekly's Best picture books of 2015!

Title: The Dog That Nino Didn't Have

Author: Edward Van De Vendel
Illustrator: Anton Van Hertbruggen
Publisher: Eerdmans, 2015
(first published in Belgium in 2013)

Intended age: 4-8 

Themes: Imagination, Loneliness, Hope

                    YES, HE HAD THAT DOG.            
                    EVEN THOUGH HE DIDN'T HAVE IT."

Synopsis: Nino has an imaginary dog that helps him feel less lonely. He especially misses his father and explores ways to pass the time--in reality and imagination.

Why I like this Book: This book had me at the title. A dog that a child doesn't have! Is the child going to get it? Is the dog flesh and blood, a stuffed toy, or imaginary? Are they both going to be okay? I wanted to know.
     This is the second time in a row that the illustrations blew me away. This palette is the complete opposite of Mother Goose's Pajama Party. No primary bright colors. All muddy earthy tones that match the dreamy feel of a place where reality and imagination co-exist. The panel-sided station wagon, the phones, the A-frame homes and Nino's back pack all have a retro feel. And Great-Grandma spends her days with a book or radio and a glass of wine! And the imaginary dog? How do we see it? In beautiful black and white line drawings that melt into the background.
Do you see the dog?
     The book has a strong undertone of melancholy (another element that felt European to me in terms of children's books). In places there is a bruised quality that permeates everything, even Nino's skin tones (I am not suggesting physical abuse! Just an aspect of excellent illustrating!). As I write this I realize--this book may sound depressing. But it isn't. It somehow makes the imagination feel as true as reality, and without sugar-coating reality, it embraces the beauty that is hope and imagination. It doesn't answer all of the questions it raises, but left me deeply moved. (even though it isn't "a dog story" after all!) It is a book that can be enjoyed on many levels. I had several other adults read the book and we discussed it at length one evening without coming to agreement on several elements!

Eerdman's spotlighted this book in a short webcast preview. Spoiler alert! You learn a major plot twist in their preview.
  • If you could add an imaginary pet to your household, what kind would you pick? Why?
  • If you have a real pet, do something that makes you both feel better. Here are ideas of fun things to do with dogs.
  •  Is it possible to "have" things you can't see or touch? (Love, Happiness)
  • Talk about things to do when you're lonely. The Women's and Children's health network in Australia has a nice website discussing why kids might feel lonely and suggestions.
  • For older children, Christina Hamlett provides lesson plans exploring the pros and cons of imaginary friends.
  • Talk about if you ever wanted something, and then been surprised when you finally got it because it wasn't exactly what you expected.
  • Think about someone who might be lonely. What can you do to cheer them up? Do it!
Let me know if this is on your reading list! I love to read your comments.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF
Note: I received a review copy from Eerdmans in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.


  1. You sold me with the opening lines! Must check this out!

    1. You must! While I was reading I kept thinking of you and how you would dissect this one.

  2. This is a new twist on imaginary friends. Important for kids to know other kids have imaginary friends/pets. Great discussion book!

    1. I played imaginary games, but never had "one" single imaginary friend. Interested to hear others' experiences.

  3. What a great a thoughtful review. I like that the emotions run deep in this one.

    1. Thank you, Joanna! Definitely not a superficial book. Dive in!

  4. What an interesting way to tell a story: about a thing that you don't have. And yet... this is so intriguing I gotta read it.

    1. The story line may seem simple, but the book is not! Let me know what you think after you read!

  5. I've heard of this book, and the title is definitely intriguing. Interesting how different European children's books are. Melancholy in a picture book. Hmm...