by Taylor Solomon
Love That Dog is a very special book. It’s small and yellow and fits perfectly in your hand. Its pages are smooth, its text printed in blue. My first encounter with the book was in the fifth grade. Our sweet English teacher, Ms. Goodnight, read it aloud to us during our unit on poetry—the first time I remember studying poetry. You see, Sharon Creech’s book is technically a novel. It even says so on the cover. But flipping through the book’s pages, you will find what looks less like the text of a novel and more like the rhythmic stanzas of a poetry collection. Love That Dog is a novel, but its story is told through poetry.
Jack is a student in Miss Stretchberry’s class, where they have just begun a unit on poetry. Right off the bat, Jack lets you know his opinion of poetry. “I don’t want to [write poetry], because boys don’t write poetry. Girls do.” Jack is skeptical, though Miss Strechberry continues to urge him to write. As the year goes on, through Jack’s prose and one-sided correspondence with Miss Stretchberry, we see Jack grow as a writer and learn more and more about his personal life, in particular his relationship with a family pet, a yellow dog. Sharon Creech uses classic poets (Robert Frost, William Blake, Walter Dean Myers) to move Jack through academic goals as well as coming to terms with the tragedy of losing a pet. One of the dedications in the book reads “For… all of whom love love love their dogs,” and Creech is not wrong in knowing it will resonate with this audience. Anyone who has experienced the unconditional love of a dog (or any pet for that matter) will relate to Jack and his story.
If Jack is discovering prose and seeing himself as a poet for the first time in Love That Dog, in the book’s sequel, Hate That Cat, he is growing and becoming even more experimental in his work. He is learning about onomatopoeia and alliteration, assonance and consonance. He even has a new subject, a large black cat who Jack is not shy to let you know he has very strong feelings about (hence the title). After becoming close to Jack in Love That Dog, the reader will love getting to know even more about him (and even more touching details of his home life) in this sequel.
As a pet owner, I see myself in Jack and his family’s love for their pets and how they come together through their loss. As a student, I see myself in Jack and his peers navigating the waters of poetry for the first time. As an educator, I can only hope to be as influential as Ms. Stretchberry, introducing her students to topics that will forever change the course of their lives. Love That Dog and Hate that Cat are sweet and simple stories, but they are not ones that will be soon forgotten.