Mr. Scootie

In Mr. Scootie, author and illustrator Sarita A. Cooke offers a whimsical meditation on the challenges of surviving the afterlife.  The narrative focuses on the eponymous dog and his efforts upon waking up in heaven to be reincarnated as an osprey on his beloved Chincoteague island. In many ways, then, Mr. Scootie feels like a new-age version of The Little Engine That Could, as Mr. Scootie’s journey is one that allows him to develop a sense of confidence as he makes his way back to the land of the living. In other ways, however, Mr. Scootie is also reminiscent of The Velveteen Rabbit in terms of both style and tone.

An illustration from Mr. Scootie.

Like the classic tale by Margery Williams, Mr. Scootie is a text-heavy story in the sense that, unlike more recent popular illustrated children’s books, there are significantly more than one or two sentences per page. To put it another way, it’s less of a “children’s book” than an illustrated tale that will appeal to adults and children alike. Along similar lines, the tone of Mr. Scootie is somewhat ambivalent. Early on, Cooke subtly reveals that Mr. Scootie has passed into the great hereafter — an event that’s bound to be at least a little difficult for any pet lover to read about. Likewise, Mr. Scootie’s first steps toward reincarnation are filled with uncertainty and trepidation, and even his eventual return to the land of the living is accompanied by wistful memories of the life he’s left behind. Of course, none of this makes Mr. Scootie less engaging or enchanting. On the contrary, the emotional complexity of the story makes it a tale worth savoring, especially for anyone who’s ever lost a beloved pet.

Everyone Loves Elwood: A True Story

As Jonathan Swift once said, every dog must have his day, and for one dog, that day is immortalized in Karen Quigley and Loren Spiota-DiMare’s charming children’s book Everyone Loves Elwood: A True Story. The story centers on Elwood, a dog once deemed too ugly for his breeder to sell. Fate, however, steps in for Elwood, and he’s eventually adopted by someone who loves him not despite but because of his unique appearance. That Elwood has a heart of gold only sweetens the deal.

In addition to being a story that champions the underdog in all of us, Everyone Loves Elwood also beautifully reflects the old saw that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Bearing a slight resemblance to a gremlin, Elwood’s tongue hangs out of his mouth in perpetuity, and what little fur he has sits atop his head like an angry white mohawk. Yet something about him is undeniably captivating — as are all of the colorful illustrations by Kay A. Klotzbach that bring the book to life. Indeed, as Elwood closes in on his destiny of being named the world’s ugliest dog, what comes across most clearly is that dogs are a lot more forgiving than people when it comes to appearances. Elwood, after all, doesn’t realize that he’s “ugly.” In his mind, he’s just Elwood. “Ugliness” and its opposite, the book insists in its own unassuming way, are human concepts that are not only subjective but can also get in the way of what might otherwise be beautiful friendships.

It would be tempting to call Everyone Loves Elwood a modern-day update on The Ugly Duckling, but Elwood’s story does not end with Elwood turning into a swan (or, for that matter, a Pekingese), and for that, we’re all the better. Playing the cards he’s been dealt, Elwood shows us all — adults and children alike — that personality trumps beauty any day of the week. Or at least that it should.