Book Review: The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs, a Wonderfully Illustrated Anthology

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Paul Goble is an author/illustrator whom I know from my childhood.  He and I share a fascination with horses, attested to, for one, in Caldecott medalist The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses.  Several of the stories in his latest book, The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs & Other Stories from the Tipi, which I won from a Goodreads giveaway, prominently feature horses, and Goble illustrates each tale in his characteristic style, reminding me of that childhood favorite.

Unlike The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs is not a picture book.  It reads most like anthologies of fairy tales and folklore that I have read.  The stories here are mostly if not entirely from oral tradition.  Could this anthology be read to children?  Easily.  These seem to be the type of tales that would have been told to people of all ages around a campfire, and yes, were probably told too as bedtime stories.  Parents should probably use discretion when deciding whether this book is one their child would enjoy, simply because its tone is more serious than many of today’s kid’s books.  I found there wasn’t a lot of humor in these tales.  These tales would be a great introduction into Native American religious beliefs, and would also fit nicely alongside of other myths and folktales in a curriculum.

Goble uses a combination of watercolor and ink to achieve bright earth- and jewel-toned illustrations that favor detail and texture.  He also favors a bold, white outline seeming to separate each of his colors and particularly each of his figures.  Interestingly, all of his human figures—at least in this book—are mouth-less.  What emotion is portrayed in the illustrations seems to come from the tilt of the head or the gestures, which I think might leave the images a little stiff, save for the tone set by color and text.  Both this and his bold white outlines are intriguing and unexpected features; I don’t feel well enough qualified to discuss why he may have made these choices in his illustrations, but I think them worth noting as creating a style that is very much Paul Goble.

Goble is a Caldecott-winning illustrator.  He shines in The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs.  Reading this, some of the illustrations seemed to almost magical meld themselves with the text so that I felt as if I was reading both at once, or being ushered into each line by a splash of color, the colors building as the words did into a full picture.  Unless you experience this feeling with this or another book, I don’t think I’ll be able to capture it.  And maybe I was just reading too late at night when this happened, and exhaustion was getting the better of me, but I want to attribute this to the careful planning and pure magic of Goble.

Goble’s illustrations certainly add to the vibrancy of these tales, but they take a backseat for me to the text, rarely told stories, carefully collected and headed and footed with cultural notes, and notes about the collection of the tales, and sometimes with Goble’s interpretation of the stories.  I enjoy the illustrations, but this book will stay on my shelf as a colorful anthology of folklore.

****

Goble, Paul.  The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs & Other Stories from the Tipi. Bloomington, IN: Wisdom Tales, 2012.

This review is not endorsed by Wisdom Tales Press or Paul Goble.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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About Kathryn

My love of books has been carefully cultivated by the adults who raised me and also by the friends who love to share. My life has led me down long library shelves, to online forums, fanfiction sites, the front of a lecture hall, and into the desks of college classrooms. With an English degree and a couple master’s classes in Children’s Literature, I am now a bookseller for Barnes & Noble. I have been an editor for Wizarding Life Networks (the people who brought you Wizarding Life, Panem October, and MyHogwarts now HogwartsIsHere).

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