When I was about ten, my dad decided to get two kittens to live at his house, to keep him company, and so that my sister and I would have furry friends to play with when we came over to his place on the weekends. They were ginger cats, litter mates, and he named them Pork and Beans. Pork was mine, and Beans was my sister’s. It didn’t take long for everyone to realize that while Beans was a beauty, with long shiny fur and a fluffy ruff around his neck, he was dumb, “thick as a post,” my dad concluded. Pork was tough, the kind of cat that was born to roam around outside and get into scraps with the other cats in the neighbourhood. He wasn’t much to look at, a pretty ordinary short-haired cat, but while his brother had looks, he had brains. I think this was why my dad didn’t worry too much about them when he opened the back door and let the cats out. He probably figured Pork would take care of Beans, but I used to wonder how Beans managed out there in the wide world. Anyway, those two feline brothers made such a crazy pair, and I liked to imagine all the trouble and adventures they had together.
In the end, one day Beans did not come home, and after a few weeks, we figured that his lack of street smarts (or any smarts at all) had led to his untimely end. I think it was two years later when my dad discovered by chance that Beans was completely fine, living in a house a few streets away, and my dad decided to let him stay there with his new people. My dad used to say that I should write a book about Pork and Beans, and the other day, when I picked up Marla Frazee’s wonderful new book, Boot & Shoe, it got me thinking about the wacky feline brothers I used to know and love.
If you are in any way an animal person, Boot & Shoe will charm your socks off. These two tiny hounds are brothers, and they like sharing a lot of things: their house, their bowl, their peeing tree, their bed. There is just one thing that they like to do differently. Boot hangs out on the back porch, and Shoe spends his days on the front porch. Everything is “exactly perfect” until the day that a squirrel decides to start trouble. He gets both dogs going, and they chase him all over the yard. At the end of all this, the dogs have switched porches. Boot is shocked to see that Shoe is not where he should be, and Shoe is just as shocked to see that Boot is not where he should be. Both dogs wait for the other to return, but of course, that doesn’t happen. They wait all day, past dinner, in the rain, until finally they both decide at the same moment to go check the other porch. I won’t tell you how this sweetly humorous situation wraps up, because it’s just right, and utterly perfect for two comical canine characters.
Marla Frazee‘s illustrations are divine, which is no surprise given that she is a two-time Caldecott Honor medalist. I love the fact that the dogs’ faces are too hairy to see their eyes, and their little mouths are often shown as two wee lines and yet you get so much personality coming off the page. Frazee gets doggy physicality. Some of the illustrations are so understated, but you can see that every detail has been considered. There is one double-page spread, where the squirrel is running all over the yard with the dogs behind him, and Frazee has drawn about a hundred mini squirrels and dogs so that you see the chase route. It is hilarious and wonderful. You can literally follow the story of the chase around the picture. Don’t miss the way that the squirrel stops to give the pooches a wave before he saunters off. Brilliant.
A genius tale of doggy antics and friendship, Boot & Shoe is right up there in my list of new favourites.
Boot & Shoe is published by Beach Lane Books.