Friday, November 30, 2012

Unconditional Love

When it comes to unconditional love, there is no better teacher than a pet--both for giving and for receiving love. In Charley's First Night, when Charley the pup wants Henry the boy to take him home, a lifelong lesson begins.

"This is home, Charley," the boy tells his new pup after a tour. Helen Oxenbury's image of Henry staring into his pup's face, and Charley's vulnerable four-legged body language make clear that each is the only one for the other. In a pitch-perfect scene that blends humor and poignancy, Henry prepares Charley's bed for the night. His parents have been "pretty clear" that Charley must sleep in the kitchen. So Henry places a big comfy pillow under the table, along with his Teddy bear Bobo next to Charley--stuffed bear and dog's bellies bared irresistibly--and a clock between them: "tick-tock-tick-tock--like another little heartbeat in the night."

Even youngest readers will predict that neither boy nor dog can make it through the night alone. "The crying started in the middle of the night and you knew right away it was Charley," Henry says. His feet do not even touch the ground as he runs to his dog, just the way a parent would with a crying newborn. Youngsters will feel that palpable pull. 

Henry breaks the "pretty clear" rule, but who can deny his sense of responsibility? His indisputable, irrefutable love for this dog?  A closing image shows the reflection of an understanding mom in the mirror on Henry's bureau.

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