Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Review: Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

Why I Like This Book:
I have always snuffed out the thought of dying faster than you can blow out candle. It is as simple as this- while I am alive, I choose to focus on living. Now that I have children, I sometimes find myself going too far down the "what if" lane, and it's enough to bring me to a paralyzing halt. The scenarios often involve my own demise, but those thoughts are far easier to handle than the idea of anything happening to my kids.

Oftentimes I find myself happily driving, dragging the kids around on the usual errands, when someone in the backseat points out a graveyard. Then the questions. Is that where Great Pop-Pop is buried? Is that where Granny will go? (She's 97, so that's not an unrealistic inquiry.) How do you get to heaven? Will you be there with me? Oh God. Now I am about to lose it. I almost have to pull the car over to the side of the road, or we'll all find out the answers to these questions sooner rather than later.

And then I think about Dog Heaven. It's a fluffy, simplistic, peaceful tale about dogs who have moved on from their worldly homes to a better place high in the sky. This is how I like to think about a life-after for our canine friends. And it sure makes a good read for my kids who have way too many questions about the subject I avoid with all my might.


Book Summary/Review:
Sooner or later, children start to ask questions about what happens when a person dies. Whether a child experiences the death of a beloved pet, friend, or family member, or just starts to inquire in general terms, it is rarely an easy topic to talk about with someone so young. Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant is a wonderful book that many parents will find helpful and children will find reassuring.

It’s important to mention that the book addresses the role god and angels play in creating a heaven that is perfect for dogs. Otherwise, there are no specific religious overtones or beliefs. In fact, the heaven described in the story sounds almost like a child’s description of the best imaginary playground for dogs.

Dog Heaven is full of fields, lakes, and biscuits falling like raindrops, shaped like the kitty-cats and squirrels dogs love to chase. Fluffy of clouds make the perfect pillows for resting after a long day of playing. And when the dogs miss their owners, they pay a secret visit just to make sure their previous home and family members are doing well.

Reading Cynthia Rylant’s whimsical depiction of a dog’s life after Earth is a pleasant way to address the questions of inquisitive young minds. The author’s first endeavor as a picture-book painter is also a successful one. The child-like illustrations in primary colors create a light, playful tone. Children and adults alike will also appreciate the gentle, upward-sloping pictures which give the reader a sense of floating or rising above.

Overall, Dog Heaven is a great book that parents can use to address death in positive terms. It portrays a fun-filled eternal life for dogs, perfect for assuaging children who are upset, anxious or simply curious about death.

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