Go Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman

Go Dog, GoAs a child, I was scared of dogs.  My brother – three years older – was scared of them, too.  There may or may not have been some confrontation with a mean dog when one or both of us were very young.  Memory has shuffled all that away so that all I really remember now is the deep and abiding fear that I felt when I came across a dog.  Size didn’t matter, nor did temperament.  A dog was a dog.  And I was afraid of them all.

Memory has also shuffled away a lot of my early forays into reading.  I only remember a handful of the many books my mother and father read to me when I was very young.  Where the Wild Things Are.  Are You My Mother? A wide assortment of Dr. Seuss books.  And Go Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman.  I have vivid memories of that particular book being read to me, and unless memory has tamped it down, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t ever frightened by it.

Go Dog, Go! is a catalogue book.  It presents a tumbling list of dogs – all shapes, sizes and colors – doing all sorts of activities.  They play, they ride in cars, they swim, they do road construction.  There’s a recurring scene where one dog asks another if he likes her hat.  For most of the book he doesn’t.  By the end, he does.  That’s as close to a plot as the book gets.  It’s not a narrative in the fashion of Where the Wild Things Are or Are You My Mother?  It’s a list of dogs doing things.

My daughter loves the book.  I read it to her at least once a week, and she’s memorized whole chunks of it.  She – unlike the young version of me – loves dogs.  It’s no surprise that she engages with the book so readily.  What I find myself fascinated by each time I read it to her, is the lack of fear I apparently felt when confronted with 70 pages worth of dogs.  I went absolutely rigid with terror if confronted by a real dog, but P.D. Eastman’s cartoon versions were more than okay with me.  They were so distinct that I remember them when other books have been lost.

Honestly, I’m not sure why that is.  It might just be because Eastman’s dogs are about as non-threatening as any I’ve ever seen.  It could be that simple.  It could also be that on some level I really wanted to like dogs.  Most of my friends liked them, and I saw kids on TV play with them.  Engaging with them on the page would have been an easy way for me to test those waters.

I think there’s probably something else in the mix, though.  It’s true that we approach entertainment for some level of escapism, but the way that we dig into certain works veers away from escapism and into a sort of personal engagement, a connection between our inner lives and the words on the page.  I can’t be sure, but I think I may remember Go Dog, Go! because it wasn’t escapism for me.  Twenty-some-odd years later I read Cormac McCarthy’s great novel The Road.  I read it while my wife was pregnant with our daughter, and it affected me deeply.  That book, like Go Dog, Go! allowed me to engage something that was happening with me on an internal level.  In the case of these two books, what it engaged was a deep fear – of dogs in the one, of the perils of protecting a child from the hardness of the world in the other.

Sometimes, even when reading feels like escapism, it’s really connection.

My fear of dogs didn’t last.  I came around with the help of my aunt, uncle, and their two dogs – Sunshine and Champ – when I was eight or nine.  When I visited them, when I quite literally confronted my fears, I broke loose of that early part of my life.  The credit for that goes to my aunt and uncle, of course.  They were nurturing and supportive, and they eased me and my brother into encounters with the dogs.  The credit goes to Sunshine and Champ as well.  I’ve known a lot of dogs since, but those two might always be my favorites.  But there’s also got to be some debt that I owe to P.D. Eastman, who gave me an outlet for digging into that part of myself.

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