This PB is at the top of my favorites list! I’ve reread it a few times recently because one of my family dogs passed away two weeks ago. Harley was my 14-year-old beagle that battled health issues for years. He deteriorated on a Sunday and my parents decided it was best to end his suffering and let him cross the dog rainbow bridge. He was my first dog as a child and he gave me lots of happy memories. After he left us, I immediately cuddled up with my dog, Dixie, and reread Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann for some PB comfort.
Quick synopsis: Gus and his dog, Ella, have been together for a long time. But Ella is a senior pup and tells Gus she won’t be around forever, but that she’ll be with him always. After Ella passes, Gus finds it hard to do anything. On Halloween he pulls on his skeleton costume and trick-or-treats. He passes through a graveyard on his way home and suddenly finds himself surrounded by skeletons that want to eat him up. Then bone-dog Ella drifts down from the sky to help her old pal. I refuse to spoil the wonderful ending—go read it!
The central message of this PB is one of the main reasons I adore it: the people and pets we eventually lose never truly leave us. They’ll be with us always to give us strength and courage. Our memories of them help us to live on. Losing animals is tough and Rohmann masterfully shows that their spirits live with us forever.
I frequently study this short PB (~350 words) because I love the words, especially the verbs. Rohmann uses the verb “trudged” to describe grief-stricken Gus reluctantly trick-or-treating. Before the skeletons appear in the graveyard, Rohmann writes, “The clouds swallowed the moon.” Not only does this set a spooky scene, but it also encapsulates Gus’s feelings: the light is literally swallowed by the dark. Before bone-dog Ella flies from the sky, “the moon broke shimmering from the clouds.” The light returns, and with it, Ella. And Gus’s courage!
I love Halloween stories and PBs with just a touch of spookiness. In Bone Dog, the skeletons want to eat Gus, which is a bit scary. But Rohmann makes the skeletons comical, too. They crack jokes, call Gus a “numbskull,” sing, jiggle, and jive all skeleton-like. Adding spook to a PB is a touchy business. Like adding too much sea salt to your chocolate truffle cookies, too much spook leaves an icky taste in a kid’s mouth. But this PB is balanced. There’s spookiness, but it’s outweighed by silly skeletons and triumphant Ella.
If you’ve seen Rohmann’s work, you know he’s a great illustrator. He won the Caldecott for My Friend Rabbit, of course! I love the softness of the full moon spreads, the shadowy graveyard colors, and the curved lines of running dogs. He captures canine movement masterfully. And I can’t help but smile every time I open this book. There’s a transparent layer just before the title page. Before you turn, you see Ella with her red and white fur. After you turn the transparent layer, you see the same Ella, but as a bone dog. Genius!
I could gush about Bone Dog all day. It’s a book with heart and hints of spookiness. If you’ve lost a pet or just love dogs and Halloween, you need to read this one. Do it, numbskull!