Monday, June 30, 2014

Different Drummer Dogs: Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio


A doting mama, Mrs. Poodle thinks her four pups are perfect. And being a good mother, she begins to teach them to behave as proper poodles do.

Fifi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La are perfect little fluffy teacup poodles, cute and diminutive, and they take to dainty ways like ducks to water.


But Gaston doesn't do dainty with ease. If his sisters are petite teacup pooches, he's more like the teapot.

Mrs. Poodle loves all her pups, and gently she praises Gaston for trying so hard to emulate his refined sisters, even if he is, well, rather big-boned for the breed. And Gaston tries his best to fit in with his super-civilized siblings. Mama Poodle is satisfied and proudly takes her litter out to the park to show off their good manners and elegant carriage.

But there she meets another new mother, Mrs. Bulldog and her four youngsters. Three of them are properly brawny and brash, tumbling and wrestling, and, it must be said, slobbering quite a bit in the process. The fourth pup sits sedately and demurely and frankly looks exactly like Fifi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La La.

Obviously, there has been some mixup in the canine nursery. Gaston is clearly like Mrs. Bulldog's three, and her Antoinette is obviously a dead ringer for Fifi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La. It seems that a a puppy exchange is in order, so Gaston goes home with Mrs. Bulldog and Antoinette leaves with Mrs. Poodle. Now everything is in order.

Or is it?

Nature or nurture? Nurture seems to be winning out here. Gaston can't help yipping politely, and eschews joining his brothers in being "brutish or brawny or BROWN!" Meanwhile, Antoinette is a little bored and put off with being "proper, precious, and PINK!" None of poodle girls will tussle with her. The two are just not quite a good fit with their look-alike siblings, despite the obvious family resemblance.

Luckily, Mrs. Poodle and Mrs. Bulldog are empathetic mothers, and seeing that Gaston and Antoinette have acquired different styles from their original families, arrange to a second swap for the misplaced pooches. But time spent in the two families has given Antoinette and Gaston a broader view of how the other half lives, and when they grow up and marry, they have the perfect precious and brawny, pink AND brown pups who fit right in with both families.

Kelly DiPucchio's brand-new Gaston (Atheneum Books, 2014) is a delightful doggy tale of finding the perfect blendship of family styles. Her narrative is crisp and wry, and artist Christian Robinson follows through with classy illustrations done up in an apt blend of style and media that echoes the premise of DiPucchio's story.  This gentle theme offers a lot of insight into what makes us what we are while dishing up a delightful mix of appealing pooches that kids, especially those who are a bit different from their siblings, will laugh over and love.

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