I first heard about Patrick McDonnell in Modern Dog Magazine, where he (rightly!) earned many kudos for his work promoting shelter adoptions. The article spoke of McDonnell's "Shelter Stories" series that run each November. My curiosity piqued, I checked out McDonnell's website. But that's about as far as I went until my friend Colin asked me if I had checked out McDonnell's Shelter Stories book. It seemed a bit serendipitous that McDonnell's name kept popping up everywhere, and Colin promised the book was a keeper. So, I picked up a copy and was overwhelmed. Archie is a shelter dog and Gabe was on his way to the SPCA when fate (aka my niece Michelle) intervened for us, so shelter stories and Shelter Stories particularly resonate with me. If you know someone who has adopted a pet from a shelter or rescue, I highly recommend Shelter Stories as a gift.
A few months later, I was browsing in the children's section of the bookstore and I came across McDonnell's children's books. I read through a couple of them and thought they were beautifully done with simple artwork and meaningful stories. But they weren't right for the gift I was searching for and at $20 a pop at McNally Robinson's, they were a little pricey for me to keep for myself, so I sadly left them behind.
Fast forward to my great-nephew Dylan's baptism. Dylan's parents have a Staffordshire Terrier who is the sweetest, most playful dog; and they decided to decorate Dylan's nursery with a puppy theme. I am not particularly religious and have never before needed to buy a gift for a baby boy's baptism, so I decided on a couple of Patrick McDonnell's books - The Gift of Nothing and Just Like Heaven. I thought Just Like Heaven was particularly apt for the occasion, as it has a gentle moral of finding heaven on earth. But, The Gift of Nothing is just the sweetest little book; a story about a cat (Mooch) who wants to buy a gift for a dog (Earl) who has "everything" (namely a bowl, a dogbed, and a single toy). Mooch decides that since Earl has everything, Mooch will get him "nothing" which proves harder to find than Mooch imagined. The moral of this one is that the greatest gifts you can give are your time, friendship, and a hug. Perfect.
I was initially unsure if the book would appeal to a child as much as it appealed to me. McDonnell's books incorporate the same spare sketching techniques of his comic strip, and the colours are muted and selectively chosen. So many children's books have a bright and busy Disneyesque style - is that what children prefer? However, thinking back to my own favourite books as a child - namely, Barney Beagle, Frances, and Amelia Bedelia - I realized that sometimes the best books are the simple ones.
Dylan is just short of 7 months old, and perhaps not quite ready to exclaim over a new book. However, all the adults at the party loved both books, and like me, particularly loved The Gift of Nothing. My niece Marissa loved the stories as well and mentioned that she would like to get McDonnell's books for her two-year old daughter Mary. Perfect! Another gift crossed off my shopping list.