Butterfly and Oscar by Tricia Oktober
Ford Street, 2014. ISBN 9781925000511
Old Dog, Mousie, Polly, Isa Blue and Oscar are five dachshunds who live in a beautiful garden owned by a lady who collects plants and dogs. Theirs is a peaceful, placid life with each having its own personality and spending their days literally living a dog's life. Even the magpies are not afraid to come and look for worms as the dogs snooze in the sun. But one day, the owner brings another dog home - one called Butterfly, one who is not like the long, low, smooth dachshunds. Rather this one has longer legs, short ears and a squashed in face. And she isn't even the same gingery colour - she is white with black bits here and there. But this doesn't bother Oscar who is very affectionate - to him this newcomer is just another puppy who needs to be kept warm and safe at night; who needs her face washed after dinner because she is such a messy eater; and who needs to learn that shredding teddies and pulling plants out of the garden are not the right things to do.
Everything is fine in the household until one night Butterfly sees another dog outside, one that barks when she does and growls right back at her. The other dogs come to her rescue and make enough noise to scare anything away but the new dog just stands there barking right back at them. Night after night the new dog comes to the window and nothing Butterfly can do scares it away. She gets more and more scared until something has to be done - so the owner puts a mirror where Butterfly can see her reflection, but suddenly it seems that outside dog had come inside and Butterfly is even more terrified. When she finally realises that she is seeing herself for the first time, she calms down a little - until she realises that she isn't long and sleek like Old Dog, Mousie, Polly, Isa Blue and Oscar. She is very different so instead of being scared, she is now unhappy and feels very alone and isolated. Nothing cheers her up until...
Tricia Oktober always writes the most charming stories that are illustrated with her exquisite, lifelike drawings and Butterfly and Oscar is no exception. Given that it is dedicated to her dogs, all eight of them, suggests that this story might be based on real life and it is the mark of a true storyteller that they can take an ordinary event like a dog seeing its reflection for the first time and turn it into a book that enchants and teaches through its gentle message that each of us is different but it's not what we look like that counts but what we do. However, while we are loved for who we are, sometimes being the newcomer can make us feel like an outsider and that no one will accept us.
There are excellent teaching notes which will help students not only empathise with these feelings if they haven't experienced them but also help them understand that difference is not always negative and how they can reach out to someone and bring them into the circle. Miss 5 is going through a 'dog phase' - she is going to love having this in her collection if I overcome my love of Tricia Oktober's work and actually let her have it!