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Children’s Book Review: ‘Winston The Water Dog”

Special local events listed below.

Reviewed by Anika Denise

Mary Korr loves her dogs. You can see the pride on her face when she introduces Maggie and Elvis, her two handsome Portuguese water dogs. But for Ms. Korr–a writer and Rhode Island resident–her dogs have not only provided her family with years of joy and companionship, they became the inspiration for a children’s book series she’s creating with another Rhode Island-based artist, Cathren Housley.

Winston the Water Dog“Winston The Water Dog,” the first of three books and one prequel, is based on the true adventures of a boy named Josh (Korr’s son) and his first dog, a Portuguese water dog named Winston.

Thanks to the Obama’s presidential pup, Bo, Portuguese water dogs have been enjoying a great deal of attention these days, and so Korr’s inspirational tale seems especially well-timed.

Set in Barrington, Rhode Island, it is the story of how Winston first comes to the boy, and an account of their early adventures together. The book also contains a mythic component–a simultaneous tale of the water dog’s grandfather, Bravo, who lives in a faraway land across the ocean. Bravo reappears throughout the book as a figure of courage whenever the little water dog becomes frightened.

Housley’s soft watercolor illustrations of Josh and his little pup romping playfully at the water’s edge are cheerful and sweetly drawn; and the juxtaposing of the fuzzy gray dream sequences involving Bravo are effective in telling the parallel stories.

Though the book’s length suggests a slightly older reading audience (5-9 years), Korr essentially creates little vignettes about Josh and Winston, and therefore it can work well as a read-aloud to younger children too, especially given all the charming drawings of Winston as an adorable furry puppy snuggled up sleeping or tail wagging, running through the grass.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Josh and Winston have a special bond. So special, they can actually speak to each other and understand.

“‘But do you know what’s really strange? I understand you when you woof.’ He opens his laptop and searches the dog website ‘Dogopedia.’ Wow, listen to this, Winston: Some dogs, especially ancient breeds, speak canis woofus. Children under 12 and those who love dogs can understand it. But only if they listen closely.’”

In addition to creating the next books in the series, Korr and Housley do “Woofin’ Workshops” for children ages 5 and up at local schools, libraries and museums. The workshops teach children how to create characters, thumbnail sketches, book maps and storyboards for a book. And the big bonus: They get to meet Elvis, Winston’s baby brother.

Book Reading:

– April 10: Books on the Square, Wayland Square, Providence, 11:30 a.m. book reading, signing, with special appearance by Elvis the Portuguese Water Dog.

Upcoming workshops:

– April 23: Barrington Public Library. Winston the Water Dog workshop with author and illustrator, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30. Gallery Room, second floor. Ages 5 and up. Registration required. Limited to 20.

– May 1: Attleboro Museum, 86 Park St., Attleboro, Mass. Workshop, 1 to 3 p.m. With Elvis the Water Dog.

– May 23: Providence Children’s Museum, 1 to 3 p.m. Author/illustrator workshop PJ Library event. With Elvis the Water Dog.

Anika Denise is the author of “Pigs Love Potatoes” and the forthcoming “Bella And Stella Come Home.”  She lives in Barrington, RI with her husband, Christopher – a children’s book illustrator – and their two daughters, ages 8 and 5.  Anika is also the host of Thursday morning story hours at Barrington Books.  You can read more of her children’s book reviews and story hour suggestions at www.bookmarks-ri.blogspot.com and at www.anikadenise.blogspot.com.  For information on her books, visit www.anikadenise.com.

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