Why, hello. Let’s eat out!
*pat, pat, stroke, stroke*
How nice of you to arrive so well groomed! Pink-tongued, tail-wagging, perky-eared guests are especially welcome at our table. No need to sit up and beg!
But brace yourself. Believe it or not, there are a few misguided folks in this world who think “feast” does not mix with “fur”.
Take Alberto, for example, the nattily dressed owner of the City Lights Restaurant in Linda Ashman’s heartwarming new picture book. When he sees a boy approaching his café with a St. Bernard, he changes the “Welcome” on his chalkboard sign to “No Dogs Allowed.” Harumph!
The disappointed and dejected pair head over to the fountain in the square, where they are soon joined by a girl and her cat, since Alberto’s sign now reads, “No Dogs or Cats Allowed.” Well! It’s not long before more and more customers with increasingly outrageous animals (an iguana, armadillo, a kangaroo, even an elephant!) approach the café, and since all are unwelcome at Alberto’s, they join the others by the fountain, where a vendor’s ice cream and lemonade are selling like hotcakes.
Inevitably, Alberto with his, “No One with Fur, Feathers, Shells, Scales or Trunks Allowed” policy is now odd man out, sitting alone on the curb while everyone else is partying down. When the vendor runs out of food, the boy with the St. Bernard has a brilliant idea. Will Alberto help out? Yip!
(I am inordinately pleased to report that a big pile of cupcakes is involved.)
As you can tell by the spreads, No Dogs Allowed! is nearly wordless save for a few speech balloons and the changing words on Alberto’s chalkboard. Illustrator Kristin Sorra has created a delicious feast of visual clues which deftly conveys a variety of emotions and amplifies the escalating absurdities in this charming story of tolerance, acceptance, and fostering a community.
Lucky for us, Linda’s here to tell us a little bit more about the whys and wherefores of “writing” a nearly wordless picture book. She says she got the idea after spotting a “No Dogs Allowed” sign at a ballpark and remembered seeing dogs sitting at restaurant tables in Paris. Naturally, her dogs Sammy and Stella chimed in with hearty barks of approval. Mais, oui!
Why did you want to tell this story mostly in pictures? Was it difficult to sell a manuscript consisting primarily of scene descriptions rather than actual text?
From the start, I pictured the story in illustrations, with very few words. I wasn’t sure how to do this exactly, so I attempted writing it more conventionally a few times, but the words seemed to get in the way. So I decided to describe the scenes and action, and limit the actual text to just the words on the chalkboard sign (the speech bubbles were added shortly before publication to make the book easier to “read”).
As for your second question, it wasn’t especially difficult to sell it (much to my surprise and delight). The manuscript was acquired by Meredith Mundy, my wonderful Sterling editor, who was one of the first to see it.
You say on your website that “unlike most picture books, where you have little or no contact with the illustrator, this process was far more collaborative” (between editor, art director, illustrator and you). What did you learn from this experience?
That editors, art directors and illustrators have really hard jobs! Which I knew, of course, but the whole process underscored for me how many important decisions — both miniscule and large — go into creating a picture book. And to do one well requires thoughtfulness, dedication and real craftsmanship. It was a long process, with a lot of back and forth, and definitely some disagreement, but above all a sense of shared mission. I felt really lucky to work with such smart, creative women.
How close did Kristin Sorra’s illustrations approximate what you had initially envisioned for the story? What’s your favorite spread?
It’s funny: when I wrote the story, I envisioned fairly loose, wacky illustrations that played up the absurdity of the situation. That’s not really Kristin’s style. There’s a certain quality to her artwork that makes it seem almost normal for a kangaroo and elephant to show up at a restaurant. In fact, reviewers have used words like “elegant” and “sophisticated” to describe the book, which is wonderful — but not what I originally imagined!
As for favorite illustrations, I really love Kristin’s Saint Bernard, so I especially like the spread where the boy and dog ask Alberto, sitting dejected on the curb, if he might help feed the gathering crowd. I love how Alberto’s expression changes as he considers this, and how the dog weighs in with a persuasive kiss. I also really like the final two-page spread of the book when it’s evening, the marquis sign has changed, and people and animals are happily gathered at the restaurant.
If you took your dogs, Sammy and Stella, to the All Critters Bistro, what would they order?
Well, first of all, we should note that the menu is vegetarian (you can’t very well welcome some animals and eat others!), with all eggs and dairy coming from organic, humane farms with happy, unconfined animals. Stella will have the cheese fondue, please. And Sammy is too busy stealing bread and butter off other tables to sit down and order.
Can you share an instance from your childhood where you felt excluded?
I was the youngest of four kids, so I pretty much always felt excluded. It seemed my siblings were always doing really wonderful and exciting things that I wasn’t old enough to do — playing certain games, riding bikes, going to school, going to parties, dating, driving, etc. And, of course, no one wanted a little sister tagging along!
Thanks so much, Linda!
*polishes off rest of cheese fondue*
I especially love stories featuring restaurants, and thoroughly enjoyed this unique dining experience, where fun, fur and friendship are always on the menu. Extra points for the ethnically diverse pet owners representing different ages and occupations. Kids will especially like identifying the animals in the lively menagerie (the penguin in the kangaroo’s pouch, organ grinder’s monkey, and brown bear are my favorite). Did I mention the cupcakes and ice cream cones?
NOW: Roll over, spin around three times, and go order your copy of No Dogs Allowed! You can stop licking my face now.
LOOK ↓ ↓ ↓
SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY!!
Linda has generously donated an autographed copy of No Dogs Allowed! for one lucky reader. Simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight Sunday (EST), January 22, 2012, telling us what your favorite animal is. You may also email me: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com, with DOGS in the subject line. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only. Extra entries for blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, etc. Good luck!
NO DOGS ALLOWED!
written by Linda Ashman
illustrated by Kristin Sorra
published by Sterling Children’s Books, 2011
Picture Book for ages 3+, 32 pp.
*2012 Texas 2 x 2 Reading List
On shelves now!
♥ Kristin Sorra’s official website.
♥ Doggone cute review of No Dogs Allowed! at Bigfoot Reads ☺.
Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.