Sunday, June 9, 2019

Champ -- Gallant Collie by Patricia Lauber. Illustrations by Leonard Shortall. A Closer Look into title from "7 Days of Books I Have Loved"

This post is a closer look into a favorite read from my "7 Days of Books I Have Loved" posts. You can find all the posts in that series here:

Many of us are impacted for life by the work of children's book illustrators. Their images not only encourage us to read, they inspire us to imagine. This chapter book for young readers was a favorite of mine. It was first published in hardcover by Random House in 1960. It later appeared in paperback as a Scholastic Book Services title, available through elementary school book fairs and flyers. The lively illustrations by Leonard Shortall enhanced the drama and charm of this story.
The story starts with a brisk set-up establishing the stakes.
Red-brown rascal collie Champ has flashy white markings and is the grandson of a famous working sheepdog. But Champ is best known by his nickname, Clown.
Clown would rather chase rabbits than herd stock in the pasture.
However, this is a working family farm and there's a cougar on the prowl. Farmer Dad can't have a dog that is just a pet. His Son is heartbroken when Dad announces he's sold Clown to their neighbor the Doctor.
Before the transfer can take place, the family must evacuate. Rain is causing the nearby river to rise. Dad manages to get most of the sheep out to high ground before he comes back for his wife and son. Clown took off to play while Dad was getting the sheep. The family must leave without the dog.

Clown returns to the empty farm house. Over the course of the story, Clown puts aside his feelings of rejection. He rises to the occasion, demonstrating responsibility and skill. He saves the family horse and some straggler sheep, guiding them back to the farm house hilltop that has become an island in the storm.
Meanwhile, the cougar has taken refuge from the storm on the roof of the farm house! At the climax of the story, hunger for the sheep below her drives the cougar down from the roof to challenge Clown.

After a battle, the family horse helps Clown dispatch the predator.
The sheep are safe, but the horse and Clown are wounded. When the flood waters recede, the family returns with the Doctor in his Jeep. Together, they all find the aftermath in stages: the battle-scarred horse; the saved sheep; the dead cougar; and the exhausted collie, whom the Doctor helps save. When the Doctor sees the dog with the Son, he says: "Champ. A true champion and a gallant dog. I wish he were mine." Since he doesn't need a sheep dog, the Doctor insists the collie should remain with the family.
Patricia Lauber (1924-2010) was a prolific author of children's books. Her 1993 title "Volcano: The Eruption and Healing of St. Helens" was a Newberry Honor Book -- an esteemed recognition rarely granted to a non-fiction work.  Her "Clarence the Dog" fiction series was inspired by her own pet. She wrote over 125 books for young readers. Here's a list:

Artist Leonard Shortall may be best know for his illustrations for the 1960s editions of the "Encyclopedia Brown - Boy Detective" series. Online biographical information about Shortall is scant. Sadly, this is too often the case with illustrators. If someone has more details on this artist, please comment or message me. Meanwhile, here's a Pinterest link that showcases just some of his work:

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