John Burningham ~ Jonathan Cape, 1966
One of my first library sale purchases ever was a copy of John's Mr. Gumpy's Outing (an oldie that's still in print thankfully), and my son adored it as it included animals and water and even better, animals falling into water. Reading up on him this morning, this yank had no idea that he is one of Britain's most famous children's writers. The article is fascinating, and I love the way the interviewer describes his work... "Here there are no conventional primary colours or sentimental animals."
And that is so true... the drawings are muted and full of real life ~ almost haunting really ~ as the places they take you within your imagination are your own. After meeting Cannonball Simp, I must confess to loving this man. (Though my son is quick to tell me that it is NOT Cannonball Simp, the dog's name is just Simp... he doesn't become Cannonball Simp until the end of the book.) Sooooo, when we first meet Simp the mutt, her story is grim.
Simp was what most people would call an ugly little dog. She was fat and small, and had only a stump for a tail. Her owner had found homes for her brothers and sisters but could not persuade anyone to take Simp. So, in order to get rid of her, he decided to leave her somewhere, hoping that somebody would find her and take her in.
Now, the story goes from grim to worse, when he abandons her near a trash dump (the pictures depicting this are stunning in their sadness) and even the rats don't want her. She searches for food, only to get rejected by a pack of cats. She barely escapes capture by the dog catcher and finds herself running endlessly into the night until... she meets a circus clown and finds her redemption. (The circus fixes everything, doesn't it?)
Really, my favorite part of this book is not the melancholy story... not the warm brushed tones... or the smooth lines of the little, round Simp... no no no... it is doppelganger you find on the dedication page... head cocked and dear as can be... she is what will just break your heart. I'm gonna give this book an HUGE Bravo... and leave you to shed a tear or two for all the animals we've loved and lost. Here's to you, Acton.