by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership
How about starting the New Year off with more love and kindness? Treat your family to some books by award winning author and illustrator Patrick McDonnell. His stories show the many ways we can cultivate kindness toward one another and accept others for who they are, especially if different from us. McDonnell’s picture books are written for young children, but his stories touch on big life messages that will resonate with adults.
McDonnell is widely known for his comic strip “MUTTS” that premiered in 1994 and stars a cat named Mooch and a dog named Earl (coincidently McDonnell’s real dog’s name). One of the author’s passions is in helping facilitate pet ownership and kindness toward animals. 5% of all sales of printouts of his comic strips (www.mutts.com) go to The Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Rescue Team.
McDonnell’s work is strongly influenced by George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” comic strip (1913-1944, New York Evening Journal). He uses the same bulbous noses, black eyes with no whites of the eyes showing, and loosely rendered black ink lines to define his characters. He does everything without computer technology and hand paints each image with watercolor. In the style of Harriman he also uses tender-hearted colloquial dialog between characters. “Yesh!” says Mooch, quite often.
But an even bigger influence on his artwork was Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comics, and a mentor to McDonnell. Schulz was also profoundly influenced by Harriman, the defining comic strip artist in his time. Learning from Harriman, Schulz added depth of meaning and personal feeling into his “cute” characters and passed the value of incorporating sentiment into comics, on to McDonnell.
In 2005, McDonnell broke into the children’s book world with the book “The Little Gift of Nothing” about the significance of giving your presence and companionship to someone instead of a physical gift. Since then he has written and illustrated 12 children’s books and collaborated with Eckhart Tolle (author of “The Power of Now”) on a book for adults, “Guardians of Our Being, Spiritual Teachings from Our Dogs and Cats.”
Here are some favorite Patrick McDonnell books to read with your young children. Talk about what happens in each story and see if love and kindness grow this year!
- “Hug Time.” Little orange-striped kitten Jules is so filled with love that he wants to hug the whole world. Jules makes a Hug-To-Do List and visits places around the earth, hugging many endangered species and getting many hugs in return.
- “Wag!” “Fwip, fwip, fwip!” wags Earl’s tail. Mooch wants to know what makes Earl’s tail wag. After much observation, Mooch finds out. It’s love!
- “Thank You and Good Night.” How many fun things can you do at a pajama party? These 3 friends have an evening packed with togetherness. They stage a funny-face contest, learn a chicken dance, play hide-and-seek, practice yoga, eat, watch for shooting stars—and they are thankful for it all.
- “Art.” Art is a boy and art is a thing to do. McDonnell uses this homonym pair to play with the idea that unbridled creation in squiggles, wiggles, and zigzags can be a person’s identity. Can you tell Art and art apart?
- “The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (the hard way)” Great for a child who already knows his or her alphabet, this wordless book is a continuously flowing story that needs the reader to identify what word is represented in each illustration of the alphabet. Here’s the trailer for the book on Youtube.