Gene Zion: No Roses for Harry

Illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham

First published by The Bodley Head Children’s Books, 1961

I think this would have to be my favourite story about Harry the dog. I remember reading it as a child and I still love the illustrations and the way the story unfolds, with gentle humour, awkward moments, and a quirky ending.

Harry, a white dog with black spots, has been given a birthday present from Grandma. Unfortunately, it’s a green knitted woollen jumper patterned with roses and Harry definitely does not like it. Despite the jumper being quite cosy to wear, Harry decides to lose it at the very first opportunity. But after a few clever attempts to lose it, leave it, and drop it, the jumper keeps finding its way back to Harry.

Alone at last in the park, Harry notices a loose stitch in the jumper and a nearby bird does too. Before Harry knows what is happening, the bird has flown down, picked up the loose strand of wool and zoomed away again. Before long, the jumper has unravelled altogether.

This is where the story gets really interesting! Harry knows where the bird has gone, but the reader doesn’t. What happens when Grandma comes for a surprise visit and no one at home can find the special jumper that she knitted for Harry?

The ending will make you smile, if you are not already smiling. The illustrations are gorgeous and tell the tale with so much flair using only black, green and orange for colour, in the style of Dr Seuss. The characters are endearing, and the streetscapes are filled with all the everyday things we know, similar to the art of Anna Walker and Serge Bloch.

If you like this story, there are more titles in the series, Harry the Dirty Dog (1956), Harry and the Lady Next Door (1960), and Harry by the Sea (1956) – all created by Gene Zion and his wife and collaborator Margaret Bloy Graham.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the idea of gifts and gift giving, some welcome, some thoughtful and some altogether unexpected:

Strega Nona’s Harvest
by Tomie dePaola

The Spiffiest Giant in Town
by Julian Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

What is Given from the Heart
by Patricia C. McKissack
Illustrated by April Harrison

The Gift of Nothing
by Patrick McDonnell

The Gift by Penny Matthews Illustrated by Martin McKenna

Harold Loves His Woolly Hat
by Vern Kousky

Mr Nick’s Knitting
by Margaret Wild
Illustrated by Dee Huxley

You won’t like this present
as much as I do!
by Lauren Child

Thankyou, Omu! by Oge Mora

A Chair for Mother
by Vera B. Williams

The Gift by Michael Speechley

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Erandi’s Braids by
Antonio Hernandez Madrigal Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

The Thank-you Present
by Jane Martino
Illustrated by Anne White

The Anzac Billy by Claire Saxby Illustrated by Mark Jackson & Heather Potter

My Name is Lizzie Flynn
by Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Lizzy Newcomb

The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
Illustrated by Dan Hanna
A Present for Mother Bear
by Else Holmelund Minarik Illustrated by Chris Hahner

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Give and Take by Chris Raschka

Alfie Gives a Hand
by Shirley Hughes

If you give a mouse a cookie
by Laura Joffe Numeroff
Illustrated by Felicia Bond

The Little Drummer Boy
by Ezra Jack Keats

A Christmas for Bear
by Bonny Becker
Illustrated by
Kady MacDonald Denton

Bonny Becker: A Birthday for Bear

Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

Published by Walker Books, London, 2012

If there were two characters that I would most like to host for tea it would be Bear and Mouse from this series by Bonny Becker.

Bear is fastidious, overbearing, grumpy and crotchety about almost everything.

Mouse is eternally optimistic, bright-eyed, cheeky and persistent about being Bear’s best friend.

Together they are an odd couple, but very endearing.

In A Birthday for Bear, we learn that it is Bear’s birthday and that he is not at all interested in celebrating it. Mouse has other plans however and we see him try every trick in the book to encourage Bear to change his mind. Mouse writes his own invitation to the party, but that doesn’t work. He disguises himself as a delivery man with three red party balloons and gets shooed off the porch. He dresses up as postman and delivers a birthday card, but Bear will not be moved. Mouse even drops down the chimney as Santa with a present but Bear only notices all the ash making a mess over the hearth. It seems like the final straw. But is it?

Kady MacDonald Denton does a masterful job illustrating Bear and Mouse. On any given page, Bear is illustrated in various poses with a range of emotions. He can be outraged, frustrated, huffy, curious, surprised, contrite, sneaky and delighted. Mouse is a tiny, energetic, indefatigable and ever-present creature that constantly picks and pulls at Bear’s privacy and never seems to give up despite the many setbacks he endures. Fortunately, there is always a happy ending and whilst Bear may sometimes forget that he has a wonderful friend, Mouse never tires of making sure Bear knows it.

There are many books in this series by Bonny Becker and whilst they do not need to be read in order, I highly recommend that you read all of them! They would be most suitable for children aged 4-8 years:

A Visitor for Bear
A Library Book for Bear
A Bedtime for Bear
The Sniffles for Bear
A Christmas for Bear