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Saturday, July 30, 2011

It's A Dog's Life, written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Patrick Benson. Egmont, 2010. $12.95 ages 5 and up

"I watch the shearing from the top of the hay barn. Good place to sleep, this. Tigger's somewhere here. I can smell her. There she is, up on the rafter, waving her tail at me. She's teasing me. I'll show her."

Well done, Russ!

This is definitely Russ' story and he narrates it with charm and intelligence as we would expect from a sheepdog. It's his life and he wants his readers to know just how the days play out for him as a working dog on a small farm.

He's a happy dog, with good people and attentive care. He knows what he is there to do, and he does each of his many tasks with pride and skill. Before he hopes to beg breakfast scraps from Lula, he's off to talk with his friend Smarty across the valley and to bring the cows, ready for milking. A sip of milk and a warm thanks are all he needs before heading back to the house. Breakfast is served, and shared.

Then, he's off to walk Lula to the bus before he gets on with the rest of his day.  He herds sheep for shearing, has a little nap while that work is done; then, he's ready to return them to the field. He has a little something to say about them as he works:

"All right, all right.
Down I go, and out they go,
all in a great muddle
bleating at each other,
bopping one another.

They don't recognize each other without their clothes on.
Not very bright, that's the trouble with sheep."

Crows are chased from the cornfield, and Russ is soon in need of a drink at the stream. He and Smarty have a Tigger (the farm cat) hunt and tree her, which leads them to moving on to the next bit of work. The calves need to be herded; then it's time to meet Lula and walk her home from the bus. A birthday tea is had and a special gift arrives.

Will her birthday present change her feelings about Russ?

Lovely, watercolor artwork perfectly matches the pastoral beauty and lively action of a day in the life of a farm dog. The use of light and the varying perspectives add interest and detail.

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