Earlier this year, children’s telly veteran Michael Whaite diligently pitched up to the Penguin Random House 2018 showcase, where industry insiders were wooed with tea and cocktails (cupcakes, too), and handed tote bags to fill with classics and new publications alike, all stacked enticingly.
But first came the presentations, including a quirky, intensely charming monologue from Allan Ahlberg, assisted by two of the vintage stuffed animals from Baby on Board, and some typically sparky observations from Jacqueline Wilson. Whaite managed to hold his own thanks to a nifty party trick: a lesson on how to draw a cartoon dog.
The mass audience participation slightly eclipsed his actual book, so when 100 Dogs finally landed on our doormat a few weeks back, it was an unexpected treat. The title is informative – that’s exactly how many different mutts mooch across its pages. There isn’t really a story, though it’s easy to use the pictures to dream up your own, and my daughter already has some favourites. What there is is a rhyming list, beginning ‘Small dog, tall dog, playing with a ball dog’, and going on the feature pooches from sleuthing bloodhounds to fairy-winged pugs. There’s a dog that’s trampled mud all over the kitchen, and another that’s ‘sniffing at a botty dog’. And when you reach the final spread, there they all are, a glorious muddle each and every one going about its canine business.
Whaite’s illustration style is crisp and graphic, and he captures the animals’ daft doggy energy exactly. There’s plenty to look at on each page, and a simple pictorial gimmick – a missing dog whose striped tail gives away successive hiding places – adds intrigue.
I’ve mentioned before how much of a gift rhyming texts are to weary readers. The scantiness of its words also makes this a good book for the child who’s beginning to want to read themselves. In my experience, they’re more likely to spend time perusing books solo if they’re not frustrated by tantalising blocks of text. Instead of summoning you to decode them (which most of the time is precisely what you want them to crave), they’ll relax and get to enjoy the feeling of ‘reading’ alone.
Plus, it’s DOGS. I mean, unless you’re a cat person (and I shan’t hold it against you if you are, honest!), how much convincing do you really need?
100 Dogs by Michael Whaite is published by Puffin at £6.99. Suggested age: 2-102.