Dogger (by Shirley Hughes)

I happened to notice that the last book review I wrote was my 1499th on this blog. I don't usually notice numbers of that kind, but I started wondering if something extra special could be my 1500th review, since I started writing them back in 1999.

It just so happened that I saw a Facebook 'challenge' to choose ten books that had stayed with me over the years - that had, perhaps, affected my worldview. I jotted notes and eventually turned it into a review on another blog. In doing so, I checked to see how many of my 'top ten' had been reviewed here - in other words, which of them had I re-read in the past fifteen years? I was pleased to find that eight of them had reviews on this blog: evidently they were, indeed, books that had truly stayed with me.

One of the books is long out of print and I haven't been able to get hold of it. But the tenth in the list is one that I have read many times in the past few years. I haven't reviewed it because it's a picture book for children, and I read so many of those that it's hard to keep track.

But then it occurred to me that it would make an excellent subject for my 1500th review.

If I had to choose just one children’s picture book, from all those I have ever come across, I would opt for ‘Dogger’ by Shirley Hughes. She is a writer and illustrator, probably best known for her series about Alfie and Annie Rose, which I also like very much.

I first came across 'Dogger' when my sons were little. I bought a hardback edition as part of a set which I have kept, even when moving abroad with no small children. The story is about a small boy called Dave who is, I suppose, about three. Dogger is his greatly-loved toy.  Dave also has a big sister, who likes teddies and a baby brother. And they live in a very English home which, like most of Shirley Hughes' illustrations, is nicely cluttered.

The plot gets going when Dogger gets lost - sharp-eyed children may spot what happens to him, though probably not the first time they hear the story. Naturally there's a happy ending, but it comes after a dramatic and very moving climax.

The pictures look somewhat dated, by today's standards, but they are part of what makes this book (and others by this author) so very special. They match perfectly with the text, and provide inspiration for a great deal of discussion from children listening to the story.  Even now, when I re-read it for the umpteenth time to some small friends, we have to stop on the page illustrating a fancy-dress parade so they can decide which costumes they like best, and which will suit various relatives and friends.

I particularly like this book because, rather than being overtly educational, there’s a powerful theme of family love. In a gentle way, showing rather than telling, this book emphasises how important it is to listen to a child's concerns, however trivial they might seem to the rest of his family. As for the ending - it's a wonderful example of sacrificial love that even a small child can understand. When I haven't read the book for a while, I get choked up as I read it, despite knowing the story almost word for word.

Dogger' is still in print, available in paperback for under £3 at Amazon UK, or rather more in the US; it can often be found second-hand, too, or on offer in children's book shops.

I highly recommend this as a read-aloud book for any child from the age of about three; older children enjoy the story too, and it makes an excellent early reading book for a child of around five or six who is just beginning to read on their own.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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