Picture Book Spotlight: Toby by Hazel Mitchell
About the Book:
When a young boy and his father move from one house to another, they decide to adopt a dog from the local rescue shelter. But their chosen dog, Toby, is having a tough time adjusting to his new life outside the shelter—howling all night, hiding fearfully from his new humans, forgetting where to go to the bathroom, and chasing a ball through the flower bed. The boy has promised to train his new companion, and he’s trying his best, but Dad is starting to get exasperated. Will Toby ever feel comfortable with his new family and settle into his forever home, or will Dad decide he’s not the right dog for them after all? A heartwarming story about the growing bond between a child and a new pet—inspired by the author’s experience with a rescue dog of the same name.
About the Author:
Hazel Mitchell has illustrated numerous books for children. Toby is her author-illustrator debut. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Maine with her husband and a brave rescue poodle named Toby, whose eight-day disappearance drew national attention when the story was shared across social media.
Readers, meet Toby! Hazel Mitchell’s picture book debut as author and illustrator, Toby is a compassionate and sweet story about a rescue dog, his new owners, and their process of becoming a family.
At the onset of the story, we meet a young boy and his father who have recently moved into a new place. Soon after spotting a neighbor walk their dog and seeing a poster for an animal rescue, the young boy asks his dad if they can get a dog. Following a promise to be responsible for a new pet, son and dad soon visit the animal shelter. The young boy immediately connects with a white dog named Toby and happily brings him home. Alas, things do not go as smoothly as he had hoped. Toby hides, is nervous and shy, and howls away through the night. The boy wonders why Toby- now with all the love and treats and food he could want- is not happy. After a reminder from his dad to be patient, it looks as though things are finally looking up! Toby learns commands, plays and has fun…but the fun turns into a little too much fun that ends in one big mess, one frustrated dad, and one very worried young boy. Will Toby be able to stay?
A quiet story that gets its strength from Mitchell’s demonstrative (yet muted) illustrations, Toby is a poignant and hopeful story of a rescue dog. The illustrations of the young boy, his dad and Toby are really lovely- you can see just about every flicker of emotion running through the characters’ faces. As with the illustrations, the text in the story- a mixture of the boy’s first person narration, and dialogue- is also restrained and calm, even at the most heightened and climactic moments of the story. Mitchell herself has rescued dogs (including the real-life inspiration for Toby!) and the feel of care, carefulness and understanding shines through in this story. It is a true-to-life story well-placed in the pages of a picture book: one filled with love, kindness and hope for a young audience but one that doesn’t shy away from showing mistakes and the importance of hard work and patience.
Overall, Toby is a sweet and touching story to add to the oeuvre of beautiful picture books about dogs and their families. Readers who loves a heartwarming animal story- from animal lovers to dog enthusiasts to rescuers of shelter dogs and beyond; or readers and fans of titles such as Scrawny Cat, The Stray Dog, or Widget, might especially love the thoughtfulness in Toby. Full of Hazel Mitchell’s gently expressive illustrations and serene narration, this title is sure to find its loving and appreciative audience with both children and adults.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Hazel Mitchell and Candlewick Press for the purposes of this post and in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.