- Author: Kelly DiPucchio
- Illustrator: Christian Robinson
- Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers Pub date: 2014
- Intended for: Ages 4 to 8
- Perfect for: Anyone who loves a great picture book. Anyone who loves dogs. Anyone who loves a sweet story. Anyone who loves adorable artwork.
I could keep this post to just those two words because—holy moly—is this book good. But it deserves more, so I’ll start with that fact that I haven’t seen such sweet storytelling in a picture book in a dog’s age (ha!). But seriously, this is my new favorite picture book of the year so far.
As this beautifully told story begins, Mrs. Poodle is the proud new mama of four little puppies. Three of them, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo-, and Ooh-La-La, are clearly baby poodles. Gaston, the fourth pup, is clearly not a poodle. The author is very clever and funny in her way of not telling the reader outright that Gaston is different from the other pups, but rather, she writes, “Would you like to see them again?” and the artwork shows the puppies from different angles, showing how Gaston is clearly different from his siblings.
Then one day Mrs. Poodle takes her pups out to the park and she runs into Mrs. Bulldog, who has with her four pups of her own, Rocky, Ricky, Bruno, and Antoinette. And one of those pups is clearly not a bulldog. In fact, one is clearly a poodle.
The mothers realize there has been a terrible mix-up and they agree to let the pups decide what to do to make the mistake right. The dogs go with what looks to be their correct family—poodles with poodles and bulldogs with bulldogs. But right away, they know something is wrong. “That looked right…it just didn’t feel right.” writes the author.
Each dog goes home with its new family, but things are not working out. Antoinette wants to do things that aren’t “proper” and Gaston doesn’t want to do the aggressive things that the other bulldogs want to do. The artwork on each page is filled with so many details, and for me a highlight is Gaston wanting to just read and sip his tea while the other bulldogs play with garbage. And Antoinette aggressively pulling apart a pink pillow and knocking down other dainty, pretty things like a vase of flowers is just the kind of addition to the story that make it more than just a good picture book, but a great one.
Once the two families are back at the park the next morning, they immediately trade places back to their original mismatched families. But they stay in touch and help each other learn the ways of poodles and bulldogs. Gah! Gaston showing the other bulldogs how to be tender is heart-wrenchingly sweet.
And the ending of the book…can we talk about how awesome this final spread is? It actually brought a tear to my eye because it’s so perfectly wonderful. The author writes, “And many years later, when Gaston and Antoinette fell in love and had puppies of their own, they taught them to be whatever they wanted to be.” The illustration shows a bulldog with a poodle tail and a pom-pom on its head, for goodness sake. And then there’s another puppy that has one bulldog ear and one poodle ear and the markings of both poodles and bulldogs. The illustrator gets major kudos from me for creating something so visually sweet and sentimental yet crazy funny at the same time. That scene is picture book perfection in my eyes.
I could go on for days about this book. About how the pacing of the text is so wonderful. About how the story has such a great message, yet it’s not heavy-handed in any way, shape, or form. About how the colors are so vibrant. About how the different angles we see the dogs at adds so much humor to the book. About how happiness just exudes from the pages because of the infectious smiles on all those dogs. About how the family photos on the walls of the houses are just some of the background details that make reading this book so much fun.
Honestly, I don’t know how anyone could not fall in love with Gaston. Super highly recommended. In fact, the copy I read of this book is from the library, which sadly means that I have to give it back. But I love it so much that I told my husband that I think today should be named National Buy Your Wife a Picture Book Day because I really want to own a copy of it.