Random House Books for Young Readers

This Is Probably The First Book Your Child Learned To "Read"

My kids learned to "read" Go, Dog. Go! long before they could identify letters and spell out a word. Each was able to perform the book in a long string of English-enough sounds ("beedogs and leedogs") at around 2, and wow they got mad if I ever suggested that I needed to step in as super-narrator. "I READ IT," they would say, then get back to work, relying only on the sound patterns they had etched into their brains for each page of four-color print ("tothetreetothetreeupthetreeupthetree"). Do you remember Brad Pitt's Italian accent in Inglourious Basterds? It sounds a bit like that when they read it.

Memorizing books is a positive sign that your read-aloud efforts are paying off, as Scholastic points out; a precursor to sight-reading. And it's obviously great if your kids want to sit and perform works from the preschooler canon, but I would love to know how many of us specifically experience Go, Dog. Go! as a stepping stone to reading. How many of us, at a party, meet someone pompous and think to ourselves "I do not like that hat." How many of us, on our death beds, will hear an echo of "It is not hot here under this house" as we turn to ash and blow away in the wind?

I loved the book as a kid, although I believed at the time that P.D. Eastman was a poor man's Dr. Seuss — an opinion that has changed! How smart it seems now.

The best books "have little motors that aren't necessarily narratives, but they get you across to the next page and they connect to the next page and the next page until the book is over," author/illustrator Jon Klassen told me in a discussion of of Eastman last year. And as an adult with the master key (literacy) to the book, I see how he does it.

"Big dog. Little dog.
"Big dogs and little dogs. Black dogs and white dogs."

Eastman scaffolds the story, such that you think "sure, a dog... a world where there are all kinds of dogs... who have jobs... and run ferris wheels" and never stop to think how strange it is that dogs are driving cars and leaping off wooden houseboats into the water and sleeping 14 to a single bed. And of course at the level of the words, he's building confidence. Was "dog" the first word your child could sight-read? It might have been if you had this book on your shelf.

The book seems at first to be a jumble of pages and dogs and situations (why are they playing on top of a blimp?), but intercut with seemingly random scenes, we have the connective thread of a dog in a silly hat asking another dog, "Do you like my hat?"

"I do not," replies Dog 2, with an unembarrassed honesty I aspire to from my prison of self-consciousness. (You do you, dogs: "Good-by." "Good-by!") The two meet on a very pointy mountain for a very steep missed connection mid-way through the book. And eventually they meet at the climax of the story: the dog party.

areallatadogparty! What a dog party!

Like the final moments of Crash, it all comes together; in this case at the top of a tree, as dogs, existing in their multiplicities, in every shade of red and green the '60s printing press could afford, faff about on top of the world. There, our heroes come back together: "Now do you like my hat?" — an important lesson in delayed gratification — "I do! What a hat! I like it! I like that party hat!"

The two drive off together in a car on the last page: as with learning to read, what at first seems chaotic and nonsensical turns out to make perfect sense.