Saturday, April 12, 2014

Good Dog by Graham Chaffee

Khloe' (rescued in 2010)
Admittedly, I was drawn to Graham Chaffee's graphic novel Good Dog because of my love for my two rescued dogs, Ziggy and Khloe'.  Who couldn't love these adorable chow chow mixes?
Ziggy (rescued in 2006)

However, as I  began to read this tale of a stray dog, Ivan, who is searching for a home and a master, Good Dog became much more than a graphic novel about a dog.  As Ivan meanders through a town in search of a sense of purpose and a place to call home, he encounters a pack of wild dogs whose leader, Sasha, believes he is destined to "path of glory" and boasts his warrior Malamut heritage.  For a brief time, Ivan experiences life with a pack, and his Scottie friend, Sawney, reminds him that "Men are cruel and wicked," and "no dog worth his salt should be tied to one." 
As Ivan longs for a "boss" and to "not always be outside, looking in," author, Graham Chaffee, creates a visual odyssey that engages readers in themes of loyalty, community, and acceptance.  The deceptively simplistic, black and white, pen and ink art illuminates Ivan's desire to belong and be treated as the "good" dog that he truly is inside. With his background in tattoo artistry and his first graphic novel released in 1997, Chaffee is no stranger to the power of the visual arts. Check out this interview with Graham and his gallery of art for more information about Chaffee's background. By the way: Chaffee is not a dog owner but also used a dog protagonist in his recent graphic novel Bad Dog. He has even tattooed its protagonist on a friend's arm!

If you are looking for a text that challenges our notions of belonging, tolerance, and assimilation, Good Dog is a great choice for you or your students! I highly recommend this text for reluctant readers of any age or for a middle school classroom.  (Be prepared for some profanity, though! F-bombs and s*#t can be found throughout...can't say I did not warn you!) This text would be a great fit for a unit about tolerance and expanding the community beyond the confines of the classroom. The Southern Poverty Law Center published a resource on community-building and acceptance that is a great resource for a mini-unit related to Good Dog. Also, this text could be paired with other graphic novels (or mini-comics, as this text is often called) appropriate or middle school readers.  In particular, Good Dog is a great complementary text if you're using Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese as a text for your middle or high school literature class. Both texts challenge readers' notions of what a graphic novel can offer, adding rich layers of irony to what initially appear to be a simple narratives, saturated in unassuming ink. 


Sarah Millen said...


First, your dogs are adorable. I rescued a pup this past January. I love her to death, but she just turned 6 months old and she’s definitely been testing my patience: she is currently pulling at my pant legs and trying to rip off my socks. Ugh-puppies.

Good Dog looks like a really cool book. You include that the graphic novel discusses topics such as tolerance, assimilation, and a sense of belonging—these are certainly concepts that should be brought up with our students during class. Like you said, Ivan is looking for his purpose—I think many adolescents are as well. It seems that this book will allow for many connections to be made by students to the characters (even if they aren’t human). :)

The images are well-drawn and quite eye-catching (even though black and white). I like your inclusion of the author’s experience in tattooing as well. Two seemingly contrasting professions, that’s for sure!

Thanks again for sharing.

Vanessa Chairez said...

Hey Heather! Your dogs are adorable. I am a dog lover has well. I have two are home that have become part of my family!

I have to say Good Dog looks really interesting. And from you review it seems to have a lot of great themes that can be taught in the classroom. I also liked getting to know the author more as well.


Heather Nelson said...

Thanks, Sarah & Vanessa! I appreciate your kind words about my furry children! Much like Ivan, they have taught me so much about how to show unconditional love. We all need a purpose and sense of community. I think Good Dog is a great text for young adult and adult readers, alike, to reflect on these themes! Thanks for your feedback and sharing about your dogs too!

Laura Elizabeth said...

I'm not a dog person at all... But I did like the movie "All Dogs Go To Heaven". Your description of the graphic novel and that picture of one of it's pages reminded me greatly of that story, the gangs of dogs and whatnot.
From the sound of it, I think this would be a great text to teach about friendship, how to be alone, and self worth. Do you think that this text would be too simple for high school readers?

Heather Nelson said...

Thanks, Laura! I think it could still be used as a high school text, but I would use it as a supplementary text in conjunction with other texts about the (aforementioned) themes. I will have to check out the movie too!