SNOOK ALONE, by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering, 2010, Candlewick; $16.99, $20.00; Canada; 48 pages
What are the things you like to do all by yourself?
You’re a big kid, so there are probably many things. You can dress yourself and zip your jacket — although it’s nice to have help sometimes. You can crawl into bed and pull up the covers, but being tucked in is better. You can feed yourself, play by yourself, and ride your bike alone, but it’s more fun when you’ve got a friend.
In the new book “Snook Alone” by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering, a little dog does everything with his best friend — until one terrible night.
Out on an island in the far-away sea, there lived a monk named Abba Jacob.
Abba Jacob’s job was to pray and work, pray and work all day long — which he did. And as he worked, his little rat terrier, Snook, chased rats and mice. That was his job, and he did it very well.
Abba Jacob and Snook did everything together. They got up at the same time and watered the coconut palms. They worked in the sugar cane together. They ate breakfast at the same time, and they prayed together, too.
One day, Abba Jacob and Snook went by boat to a nearby island. Abba Jacob had been asked to make a list of the plants and animals on the island. Snook had been asked to chase and catch the rats and mice that were harming birds there.
But while Snook was working hard, a storm was brewing. Soon, it was dangerous and Abba Jacob had to leave the island quickly, but Snook was so busy that he didn’t hear Abba Jacob calling his name. Sadly, Abba Jacob had to go. He had to leave his best friend behind.
There was food on the island, and a little bit of shelter. Snook found water and he foraged for things to eat. He met crabs and sharks, turtles and birds, garbage and smells, and he caught lots and lots of mice. And he waited for Abba Jacob because he knew that Abba Jacob would never leave him for long.
I’m not usually one to ruin the end of a story, so I won’t do it here. Rest assured, though, that while you’ll shed a few tears at the beauty of the words that author Marilyn Nelson uses, and while the feelings she evokes will touch your pet-loving heart, there is a happy ending after all.
“Snook Alone” is, indeed, a gorgeous book that’s partly for kids who love dogs and partly for kids who care about the environment. There’s some harshness in this book, and there are moments of grace. Your kids are going to love the illustrations by Timothy Basil Ering, too, especially those of the funny little monk who loves his ferocious little dog.
Though “Snook Alone” is a picture book, I think the story is too involved for kids under age 5. But for slightly older children who’d enjoy a tale of friendship and love, this is a book to read together.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.