This wacky series, featuring the psychedelic art of Darin Shuler, gives a nod to past styles while creating a world all its own.
Dog, an anthropomorphic character with bright yellow skin, a pink ball balanced on the end of his snout for a nose, and two dangling ears, begins the first story by encouraging his friend, Hat, a slouchy green accessory with a face, to pick him up by the ears. He can fly! Pull harder Hat! Their story really begins with the two in the packed shop of Lady Olio. Hat is encouraging Dog to buy All the Things and they leave the shop with a bright pink bag full of random stuff. Unbeknownst to Dog, he’s had an accident in the shop and the polka dots on his shirt are disappearing, one by one. They catch sight of the dots falling down a sewer and the two friends support each other in a wild journey underground to retrieve Dog’s spots. Fortunately, the miscellany of things Dog bought in the shop come in handy, and Hat has a few bright ideas to help out as well.
In their second adventure, The Lunar Eclipse Picnic, the story starts with their new friend and roommate Ant. After a dream from his childhood, Ant is determined to visit his cousins, the Moon Ants, and Dog insists on going along, despite the objections of Hat, “The world has rules! The rules keep us safe! That’s the way it is. Or it wouldn’t be that way.” Their journey involves strange picnic food, a journey to the moon dimension, and some journeys into the past of Hat, as well as Ant and Dog, to relive their past experiences. Dog, clad in his red-on-white polka dot shirt, bright blue pants, and green apron, takes his turn at encouraging Hat and Ant to follow their dreams when they get discouraged and they have a marvelous, if odd, adventure.
Shuler’s style reminds me of children’s picture books from the 70s and 80s, like the ubiquitous Sweet Pickles stories. However, his colors are brighter and each page is positively crammed with art. Lady Olio’s shop is bursting with knick-knacks and oddments, the sky is cluttered with stars, Dog’s sink overflows with dishes, and his picnic basket overflows with strange food, like french-braided spaghetti (which turns out to be useful, as well as tasty). Colors clash and spark across the pages, from the vivid blue of Lady Olio, almost hidden behind the piles of stuff in her shop, to the militant and bright pink pig, who guards the staircase to the dream dimension. The dream bunny is a fluffy, marshmallow-like pink creation, who floats disturbingly about the room with a blank stare. Ants in shades of green, red, and brown march across the pages, and Dog’s bright red polka dots leap about from place to place in the bright muck of the sewer. The retro 70s look of the art, combined with the crowded pages and goofy, nonsensical storylines, make me a bit doubtful as to who is the correct audience for this series.
The text is laid out in a bold font and is fairly sparse and simple, with short sentences and a mostly intermediate level of vocabulary. That and the silly nature of the stories seems to make them aimed at a younger audience. However, the eclectic illustrations, crammed with bits and bobs and random articles, keep this from being workable as a book for an emerging or beginning reader; they’re simply too busy for most young readers to track the action and text simultaneously. If you have slightly older or more fluent readers who like I Spy type art and this younger style of silly, meandering story, this could be just the right selection for them.
Dog & Hat and the Lost Polka Dots, book 1
Dog & Hat and the Lunar Eclipse Picnic, book 2
By Darrin Shuler
Chronicle Books, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: 6-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)