One of my favorite books in our vast collection is Dog Eared by Amanda Harvey. It’s the story of Otis the dog, who gets teased about his floppy ears one day and enters into a personal crisis of self-esteem.
Suddenly, all he wants to do is “get home and sort this ear problem out.” He tries to conceal his newly huge ears: “Should I tie them up? Or gel them under? Should I tie them in a bow? Or wear them in a spiraling tower?”
Nothing looks right. Otis heads down to bed, pausing to eat some “horrible peppermint creams” along the way. But he has trouble falling asleep, and then he has nightmares about his massive, uncontrollable ears tripping him, and flying away with him, and getting caught in trees. In the end, only a kind gesture from a friend helps him feel better.
I love the illustrations in this book—gentle watercolors and very specific characters. The look of each human and dog is distinctive. Everything always seems to be in motion—braids or hems caught on the breeze. I like the story, too. A self-esteem tale. A cautionary story about how we can see ourselves with the wrong eyes.
But what I really love about this story is Otis. I love the way he looks—his floppy ears and lips. I love his earnestness and the way he’s willing to lay his feelings on the line.
In my experience, most children’s books are told in third person. But this one is told in first person. I love the “I.” I love that it’s a dog telling us this story about himself. The tone is very intimate. It’s like talking to a friend—a very nice dog friend having a bad ear day.
I’m not sure how important that self-esteem message is for my 4- and 2-year-olds. They don’t seem to have too many issues with self-esteem at the moment. But, I figure, a message like that can’t hurt. And as long as Otis is the messenger, I’ll go back again and again.