When I previewed Nellie Belle (written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Mike Austin) at the 2015 SCBWI L.A. Summer Conference, I was hooked after the first spread. Of course, it’s hard not to immediately love a book when the wonderful Mem Fox stands on stage and delivers the most perfect picture book reading EVER. She captivated 5,000+ attendees with her musical and theatrical reading techniques. We all listened and laughed in awe. With a deep-rooted love for singsongy PBs as well as excitable pups, I dedicate this gush to Nellie Belle.
Synopsis: Nellie Belle is a happy pup. From digging in her yard to walking through town to splashing at the beach, she makes friends with a permanent smile spread across her jowls. But when something spooks Nellie Belle at the beach, she remembers the place she loves most.
Anyone familiar with Mem’s work knows she’s a master rhymer and wordsmith. Nellie Belle is no exception. The language is musical and moves the story along at a quick, fun pace. The rhyme pattern is apparent almost immediately and thus encourages enthusiasm and participation from the listener. Mem repeats rhyming words with long vowels, lacing the story together from one spread to the next.
The text leaves ample room for illustrations, and through vibrant pictures Mike Austin adds so much to the story. From the words alone, the reader can’t predict Nellie Belle’s next move. The pictures fill those textual gaps by showing us Nellie Belle’s line of sight, her movements, and subsequent reactions. For example, in the first spread, Nellie sits in the yard and peeks at the street through a hole in the fence. Where does she go next? The street, of course!
Finally, I love how this story comes full circle. After the climax, Nellie Belle returns home, enountering many of the same characters she met on her journey to the beach. And in typical dog fashion, she curls up for nap in her cozy bed (resting for her next adventure, I like to think).
Nellie Belle is a fun wordfest about an adventurous canine who, like many of us, loves home the most. It’s heartwarming, humorous, and guaranteed to put a toothy grin on your face.