Ode to the Long Format Picture Book: Snook Alone

Even a cat person like me can fall in love with a face like this

This post could just as easily be an ode to Timothy Basil Ering, the master illustrator who gives such warmth and wonder to this story.Mr. Erling is the man who gave those charming, inquisitive features to Kate DiCamillo’s littlest hero from The Tale of Despereaux. He is also responsible for the artfully scribbled, chaotic mess that is Frog Belly Rat Bone. Let’s not forget Necks Out for Adventure, an odd but touching  story about a “wiggleskin”* (clam) who risks his life to find his family. It is safe to say that Erling is quirky.

His illustrations combined with Marilyn Nelson’s poignant text makes for a beautiful piece of picture book art. Snook is a little dog who lives with an old monk, Abba Jacob. Their lives are quiet and predictable until Abba Jacob is asked by the Society for the Preservation of St. Brandon’s Atoll to assist with the cataloging of plant and animal species on a series of islands. Snook accompanies Abba Jacob, only to be accidentally left behind on the island of Avocaire. Fear not, gentle readers- monk and dog are reunited in the end, as depicted in the most lovely image of joy ever to grace a children’s picture book.

 Marilyn Nelson’s text is full of lush description and genuine reverence of the natural world. The setting is exotic and provides excellent source material for an author with an aptitude for poetry. Nelson introduces all sorts of plants and animals that young readers (or listeners) will no doubt want to learn more about. In fact, the story reads as an ode to the natural world. While his beloved master is around, Snook is content to be his shadow, following at his heels and hunting mice and rats.  But when left to his own devices, Snook’s routine changes, as does his outlook on life. His days are full of the sights and sounds of turtles, sharks, tropical plants and a truly terrifying land crab. Snook’s separation from Abba Jacob is gutting, but it is during this separation that his eyes are truly opened to the wonders of the world. It also makes their eventual reunion that much more poignant. Snook Alone is perhaps a meaningful story for parents who are teaching their children to deal with separation anxieties.  

I love longer format picture books. They make great family read alouds, the kind of book you want to keep on hand for rainy days at the cottage or cold nights by the fireplace at Christmas. Some of my favourites include The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico and featuring divine illustrations by Angela Barrett and Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep, Eleanor Farjeon and Charlotte Voake’s ode to skipping. I would even go so far as to include Shawn Tan’s innovative Tales From Outer Suburbia on this list, though the style and format is more pastiche than it is a traditional narrative. Snook Alone is a welcome addition to this collection of artful and heartfelt comfort reads.

Snook Alone is available now in hard cover from Candlewick Press.

*Most adorable moniker for a not-so-adorable creature

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