Title: Good Boy
Author: Mal Peet
Illustrator: Emma Shoard
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Publication date: 15th March 2019
A sinister black dog stalks Sandie Callan in her sleep. Its glinding eyes and low blood-curdling growl leave her terrified.
Only her precious pet mongrel Rabbie can keep the monster at bay.
But when Rabbie is no longer there to protect her, Sandie’s worst nightmare returns…
Taken from Good Boy
About Good Boy
Good Boy is as dark as it is beautiful. It opens to Sandie’s nightmare, where she is haunted by a black dog. The dog continues to stalk Sandie until she gets a pet mongrel, Rabbie, who comforts and soothes her.
Soon Sandie grows up and moves out of her family home without Rabbie. One day the news reaches her that Rabbie has died, and Sandie is stunned by the sudden return of the black dog who haunts her, day and night.
There is nothing that hasn’t been thought through with this book, from the endpapers to the weight of the pages.
With Peet’s profound writing and Shoard’s vivid illustrations, Good Boy will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
Q&A with Emma Shoard
I was lucky enough to be offered an opportunity to do a Q&A with Emma Shoard, the wonderful illustrator for Good Boy. Sadly, the author Mal Peet passed away in 2015, but Emma can tell us about how she came to illustrate this powerful story.
Hi Emma, would you mind introducing yourself?
Hello, I’m Emma, a freelance illustrator living and working in London.
Can you provide a bit of background on how you came to be the illustrator of Good Boy?
I’d worked with publishers Barrington Stoke on a couple of books at the point when I was commissioned to illustrate Good Boy, and it was brilliant to find out that we’d be able to carry on working together. I heard rumours that I was being considered as an illustrator for a couple of Mal Peet books but I had to wait quite a while to find out if these were true. It was so exciting when I did get the brief through for both The Family Tree and Good Boy, two really brilliant and completely different stories.
What was your process of illustrating Good Boy?
As with any larger project I began by doing lots of research and exploration of how the characters would look, what their back story might be and where the story would be set. I’d read through the text many times picking out suggestive details to help with this, but also since the story is quite ambiguous, I also kept reading it trying to work out what it all meant. I created quite a clear family history for the main character, Sandie, in my mind but there are probably only a few details in the story which reveal any of this, for example the little family photograph which I added to the start of the book.
Did working with the subject of depression and mental health present any challenges?
The main challenge was to bring another layer to the story, with my illustrations, whilst not ascribing my interpretation too strongly. The narrative I imagined for Sandie was one of fear and vulnerability relating the missing member of her family. Perhaps her nightmares and her path in life were shaped by this loss. But sadly being unable to speak to Mal about this, I only hint at it. Others have found that Sandie’s experience could relate to depression or a fear of death. It will be really interesting to discuss with others how they feel about the story.
I love all of the illustrations in Good Boy; each of them has their place and purpose. If I had to choose, I’d say the illustration on page 34 is my favourite, where we see the return of the black dog after the death of Rabbie. Do you have one that stands out to you, and if so, why?
Oh thanks, the idea for that one came to me really clearly, I could feel the sharp claws on the soft familiar duvet. There are a few that I’m really pleased with but my favourite is probably of Sandie and her mum on page 8, when Sandie first wakes up from her nightmare. I’m really pleased with the expression on Sandie’s face, I hope that people connect with her in that moment. I thought a lot about where she would be looking, still searching the room for traces of her dream but also with her face close to her mum’s big comforting arms.
I’m also really pleased with the tower block illustration on pages 48-49, the lighting on the walkways, the not quite black sky and blue police lights at the bottom of the page.
Can you tell us about what you are currently working on?
I lived on boats on the river Thames for the last 6 years or so and would love to make something about the river. I’m in between books at the moment so am taking the chance to work on personal projects including a proposal for a piece of illustrated non-fiction which has been in progress ever since I started waking up the sounds of coots on the water and geese outside my front-door.
One last question, just for fun. You mainly work with ink, charcoal and pencil. If you could only work with one of these mediums, which would you choose?
Ink. Definitely. You can do so much with it, with the amount of water you use, how you let it dry or soak into a page, you can apply it with a piece of bamboo, an expensive brush, your fingers, feathers or anything.
Thank you to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review, and for arranging this Q&A with Emma.
About the illustrator
Emma Shoard is an illustrator and printmaker from Brighton, who lives in London on a barge on the Thames. Emma works mainly in ink, charcoal and pencil to create drawings that capture movement and purpose through free and fast mark-making. In 2018, she was longlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal.
You can find Emma on Twitter.
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