Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm
By Jon Katz
(Henry Holt and Co., 2011)
Ages 4 to 7
This picture book is Jon Katz's first book for children. He is a journalist, novelist and photographer and all those skills inform this touching and intelligent book.
Bedlam Farm, in upstate New York, has traditional barn-red buildings, rolling wooded hills and fields of flowers. The photos alone make this a compelling book.
The dogs of Bedlam Farm are Rose, a sheep-herding border collie; Izzy, a border collie therapy dog; Frieda, a German shepherd/ Rottweiler guard dog; and Lenore, a black Lab who would rather play than work.
Katz uses an old story telling technique: Set up a question and repeat it in each section of your story, like the refrain of a song. This lures readers along and gives children the happy chance to find the answer and feel they've beaten the storyteller to the punch.
It is goofy Lenore who carries the question: If these are all working dogs, what is Lenore's job?
As Katz tells each dog's story, we learn that Rose is very serious; Katz shows her sitting at attention in deep snow. Izzy was rescued from severe neglect. Frieda had been feral, living in the woods.
And we learn who taught Rose to play, who was Izzy's first friend, and who goes into the woods to bring back Frieda when she runs away. Of course, it's Lenore.
Lenore's job "is loving and accepting and having patience."
In these frightening times, these are deep messages for children to hear. You can recover from serious hurts, and you don't have to be strong, busy, fast or scary to matter.
"Thanks to Lenore, the dogs are a family." That's important work, indeed.
- Jackie Melvin, freelance editor