There is a certain kind of illustration that, when I see it, I know immediately that I don’t like it, and that The Guy does. I don’t even need to consult with him – after all these years (alright, seven – but who’s counting?) I just know when our artistic tastes (such as they are) are going to clash.
Stephen Huneck’s illustrations are a case in point. I got the book from the library because it has a dog with a star on her nose on the cover. The baby immediately started barking excitedly when he saw it. Once he realized that the big yellow thing was a star (one of the few words he uses that sounds like the word he actually means), he went into excited-baby overdrive. So, despite my illustration-misgivings, I brought Sally in the Sand home.
The Guy loved it (he also loves Labs, so that probably helps).
The illustrations are woodcuts, painted with bold colours and accentuated by those white stripey line-waves for texture. You know what I mean – the kind of stripey line-waves that are commonly used in woodcuts. Sally, our Black Lab star of the story, is covered with hairy-looking lines, the ocean waves have wavy lines, the starfish has pointy line-dots, and even the towels are textured. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m not a fan of the style.
I’m also not a fan of the writing style. The text is choppy and jumpy, going from one extremely-short-non-sentence (“And explore.”) to the next (“Hello. Ouch!“). One could say that dogs don’t think in sentences, so of course the books should be written this way. I would argue that since dogs also don’t read, it wouldn’t hurt to write a book using human sentence structure. To be entirely fair, the board-book version is an adaptation of the longer picture-book version (Sally Goes to the Beach), a New York Times bestseller. My guess is that it is better written. So, overall, not a fan.
But enough about the book – Stephen Huneck’s story is far more interesting. A self-taught artist, his career began when he was “discovered” pulling a wood carving out of the back of his pickup. His works have been bought by celebrities and are owned by the Smithsonian; he has even had a book written about him. His largest work, The Dog Chapel, is a monument to dogs, everywhere. As Huneck said:
Dogs bring us closer to nature, and they help us live in the moment and feel unconditionally loved. They give us so much and ask for so little in return.
The chapel walls are covered with cards and photos of beloved dogs who have passed. While I think this is all very odd (I am not a dog-person), I do also think that a hand-carved full-sized building to commemorate dogs is a pretty amazing work of art.
Huneck’s story is also a sad one. A downturn in demand for his work resulted in having to let go some of his employees. Shortly afterwards, Huneck – who had battled depression throughout his life – fatally shot himself. Three years later, his wife also died; some articles say she also killed herself. Dog Mountain, though, keeps on keepin’ on. I’m not sure how – as reports say that the Hunecks were in a mountain of debt and owed back taxes on the land – but I guess that the proceeds of Huneck’s estate and other fundraising efforts help.
So yeah – like I said, I’m not a fan of the book. And I’m not a dog-person. But I’m a sucker for a touching story. If you like dogs, or the idea of a dog sanctuary with running grounds, dog parties, and a Dog Chapel for you and your four-legged buddy, buy this book and support the Hunecks’ legacy.
Reading Ages: 8 months to 3 years. After that, I would suggest getting the books with more words (and more illustrations).
Rating: B-. It’s okay. The baby actually far prefers Sally at the Farm, which has more animals in it, and which I would rate a B+, just for sheer enjoyment to the baby.
Grossest Part of the Book: The part where Sally licks her plate clean. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s gross.
Funniest Illustration: The one where Sally is in the car with all of the beach gear. You can just barely make out the human hand driving the car – but the rest of the human is obscured by Sally. Why? Because this is not an anthropomorphic book and Sally doesn’t drive…but it’s also a book about Sally, so the humans are mainly just hands to pat, feed, and do other essential dog-centric things.