Homer, written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper, is a book that gets right to the heart what it means to have a dog in your life. As Dan Ferrara said so succinctly in his review of Magic Thinks Big, which could almost be a companion to Homer, "Cooper's watercolors, like his sentences, are simple and quiet and essentially perfect."
"Homer sits on the porch. What does he want to do today?" is how Homer begins. Homer has a lot of options. Chase around the yard with the other dogs (no thanks.) Explore the field? (Thank you, but no.) Walk to the beach and play in the sand? (No, you go.) As everyone leaves and the house empties for the day, Homer maintains his perch on the porch. Then, everyone returns, sharing the adventures and bounty of their day. As the sun sets and Homer makes his way back in the house, Dad asks, "Do you need anything?" Homer answers, "No, I have everything I want," and, four wordless pages later he finishes his sentence with, "I have you." In the final pages of the book, Cooper shares one of the most peaceful, wonderfully domestic illustrations I have ever seen in a picture book. A two page spread shows dad cleaning up the kitchen, mom putting the kids to be, the other dogs asleep on the rug and Homer climbing into his favorite, squishy blue armchair. Homer, both the dog and the book, just exudes peaceful contentment, the kind that is felt by and radiated from a beloved dog.
But, as with all picture books worth owning, there are layers to the story and it can be read and received in more than one way. In her interview with Cooper at Kirkus Reviews, Julie Danielson points out the way that the story in Homer transcends pets, saying, "It makes me think of the happiness children can feel in a family that notices and loves them, and it even makes me think of the wisdom in not hyper-overscheduling one's children." Cooper, who used his family for models in the book as well as his childhood dog, Homer, responds, "On its face, this is a simple book. A dog sits on a porch. His family comes and goes. The end. But, yes, I hope something more is happening here. The children head out into the world - one girl explores a field by herself, one explores the beach by herself - before returning to the security of their family. They are bold, then safe - with unscheduled space, as you say, to pick flowers or collect shells. This freedom fills them up. Maybe it's the paradox of parenting. How, if we let children go, they come back stronger. . . If we create space for those we love, then love will come into that space." I loved the book Homer before I knew the thoughts and emotions that went into it, but knowing what Cooper intended when he created it makes me love it even more. This book isn't just for dog lovers, even though the tag line, "Have you ever loved a dog?" is perfect. Homer is for anyone who is part of a pack.
More fantastic books from Elisha Cooper
(for those of you who love his work, his next book is about trains and a cross-country journey!)