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The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Good Boy, Fergus!

written and illus. by David Shannon

Just about everybody in the children's book world now knows David Shannon's David, who first leapt (sometimes bare-butted) to our attention in No, David (BCCB 9/98) and who has tried adult patience in several subsequent titles. Having chronicled such a willful young human's obstreperous antics, Shannon now turns to an irrepressible West Highland White terrier, Fergus, a formidable character in his own right, but also one who will appeal to a preschooler audience as a creature even less fazed by authority than his human compatriot.

Right from the start, Fergus is obviously an overflowing handful; rather than sauntering out for his morning business when the day begins, he catapults himself after a cat, then develops convenient deafness as his owner calls, calls, CALLS the pup away from an interesting-smelling tree. His day is filled with classic doggy highlights, from the unsuccessful evasion of a bath to a successful begging attempt at the table, from a “walk” that's a high-speed pursuit of a motorcycle to a bout of mischief in the potted plants to a dinner spurned until it's topped with something more tasty, until finally he runs out of gas and falls asleep—on his owner's bed, of course. The text consists entirely of simple dog-understandable communications uttered by Fergus' attentive owner, yet Shannon manages to imbue it with breathless and comedic entreaty—audiences will especially adore the way the page overflows with the owner's repeated pleading commands for Fergus to quit sniffing the tree and come back inside—making this a readaloud that will keep even the squirmier preschoolers' attention.

The text, however, is essentially a soundtrack for the images, playing a plaintive and appropriate second fiddle to the art here: this is All About Fergus, and his owner creeps into the picture only when a convenient scratching hand or victim of an overenthusiastic greeting is needed. The visuals keep Fergus appealing while also conveying his high-voltage character: spiky lines delineate his white coat, and scribbled eyes make him look convincingly manic. In full gallop, he's a mass of windmilling limbs flailing in all directions, perhaps reflecting the Futurist depiction of motion, perhaps simply reflecting the known fact that scrabbling dogs do develop extra legs. He's also capable of fixed purpose, though, as in the sequence of panels where he stares unblinking and unchanged at his eating owner, with only a paw prodding importunately, until the Fergustender inevitably caves. Yet there's more just a funny dog here—the deceptive simplicity of the scrawled lines is counterpointed by splotchy paints that lend a subtly frescoed texture to the backgrounds and planes of color, and cinematically dramatic changes in focus and perspective add to the rollercoaster ride that is life with Fergus.

The comedy here lies not only in the classic canine comedic touchstones of pee puddles and bath avoidance, it's that Fergus has broken the system; he has not only remained uncontained by authority but made authority yield to him, as his indulgent and probably very tired owner repeatedly caves in to tell him “Good boy, Fergus,” despite Fergus' indifference to his owner's directives (ironically, audiences will be paying more attention to Fergus' owner's voice than he does). Youngsters will snicker appreciatively (and perhaps even knowingly) at that outcome, finding in Fergus a hero of domestic freedom as he wreaks canine chaos while retaining the faithful affection of dog's best friend. (See p. 326 for imprint information.)

Deborah Stevenson, Editor

 

 

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Cover image by David Shannon Good Boy, Fergus! © 2006. Used by permission of Blue Sky/ Scholastic Inc.


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This page was last updated on March 1, 2006.


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