Seven Things to Love About Hazel Mitchell’s TOBY

My daughter wandered into my room tonight and couldn’t sleep. I told her there was package by the couch that I had brought in and I was pretty sure it was a new book. Did she want to get it and read it to me? She did. As soon as we opened it I knew we were both going to love it.

Very few books hit that perfect sweet spot where story and art and design all converge into something special. Hazel Mitchell’s TOBY most certainly does. Here are a few things I hope you’ll notice when you read it.

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1. The cover design is just perfect. Understated, rich in color, full of emotion. The headline font, ‘Clue,’ is classy and smart with modern curves that keep it from being prissy. (Did I mention that in my spare time I own an advertising agency and I love fonts?) Kudos to the art director at Candlewick. They consistently create beautifully designed books.

2. Did I mention I also love paper? And TOBY is printed on silky smooth uncoated stock that pairs perfectly with Hazel’s illustrations and feels wonderful as you turn the pages. Between the subject and the design and the touch, this book reaches out to you and says “Take me home.”

3. When you open TOBY, the front endpapers hit you in a rush of color and texture that is signature Hazel Mitchell. It’s unexpected because of how simple the cover is, but the contrast is deeply satisfying and it’s probably my favorite thing about the book. Maybe. Unless you you count the endpapers in the back. Because they’re also gorgeous. (And both sets expand the story.)

4. This illustration. It says it all. It’s every animal-loving kid’s hope and fear converging in a single image. And the best part is we get to see the hope come true.

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5. I LOVE Hazel’s use of color in this book. The warm, daytime tones in every shade of brown and yellow and red; the cool night colors with just the right amount of warmth. I’ve seen much of Hazel’s work over the years and she has absolutely stepped up her game. You’re going places, kid!

6. Let’s talk story. TOBY focusses on two relationships – that of a boy and his dog, and that of a boy and his dad. The boy and his dog story is classic, and it’s the one I’m sure everyone else will focus on. But there’s real depth in the dad story as well. We don’t see a mom in the picture, which hits home for me as a single dad. And I know how hard it is to be a single parent with a kid who wants a dog. My daughter has wanted one since she was little. In TOBY, everyone bends and grows to be able to keep the pup. So maybe in a sense Toby can be seen as a stand-in for Hope. It takes everybody working together to keep it.

7. Properly tuckered out, my daughter kissed me on the cheek and said “Night, daddy.”

“Did you like the book?”

“It was very good. But you’d never let me get a dog that easily, would you?”

My heart broke just a little. Again.

Thanks, Toby. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up at the animal rescue very soon.

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TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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