Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Homer by Elisha Cooper

I may not have mentioned it before, but we're dog people. My husband and I both grew up with dogs, and while a cat or two has crept into our lives in the past, our hearts belong to canines. Our current dog, Maxie, is a miniature dachshund, but believe you me, there's nothing miniature about her personality. She was the kind of puppy you see in sitcoms: a holy terror one minute and sweet as a bug the next.

But over the years Maxie has mellowed quite a bit. At almost 14, she no longer plays fetch for hours or chases every bird that flies over our house. And when we're out in the yard, she's more than content to find a nice shady spot to perch and watch us work or play. Sure, she'll run after the odd squirrel now and again. But for the most part, she's happy just to be with her people (and trust me, we belong to her, not the other way around.)

That's the sentiment that's captured so deftly in today's pick, the heartwarming Homer by Elisha Cooper. If you're not familiar with Cooper's work, please go check out his backlist. Really, you won't regret it - aspects of his style remind me of Marla Frazee, Bob Graham, and Inga Moore, just to name a few. And while I've enjoyed some of his earlier books, it's Homer that has won my heart, truly and completely. Sprout's too, without question.

Homer is an old dog. If you've ever owned an old dog, you know what I mean by this. He has slowed to a point where his greatest pleasure is just being with his family. And that's the narrative Cooper relates, as the family goes off for their various pursuits: the young dogs to chase balls, the kids to explore, the mother to swim, the father to ride his bike. Homer is happy to laze on the porch, half in sun and half in shade, and watch the world go by, the broadness of it standing in sharp contrast to the warm cocoon of his perch. And then, when everyone returns from their day, Homer is there to hear all about it, sweet and simply content in the knowledge that all is right with the world. "I have everything I want," Homer says. "I have you."

{Okay, you're going to have to give me a minute to wipe my eyes here.}

Homer is the kind of book that's just pitch-perfect. I don't often say this, but I wouldn't change a single bit of this spare and sentimental gem. Cooper captures emotion so very well - not only what Homer is feeling, but what his family feels for him. While younger kids might not understand the depth of feeling, they certainly will get the theme of contentment and certainty. Homer is what he is, and he is completely fine with that. And so is his family, who quite obviously adore their darling old gentleman, just for being the ideal companion.

Being owned by an old dog is a rare pleasure, as is this beautiful picture book. For all a puppy's charms, let's not forget that senior dogs have just as much to give. When Sprout asks why Maxie doesn't run and play so much, I know it's time to reread Homer, and revel in what our older dog adds to our lives - acceptance, companionship, and total, absolute devotion.

Homer by Elisha Cooper, published by Greenwillow Books
Ages 4-8 (and grown-ups, too)
Source: Library
Highly recommended

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