Danny is bored. His brother Mike is out with his friends. Danny has nothing to do. ‘Take the dog for a walk on the beach’, says his mother. So Danny does. What starts as another boring episode in the day gradually develops and changes as Danny discovers the fun you can enjoy with a doggy companion, the interest and imagination that can be found in piles of pebbles – and how drama can suddenly flare up.
Anthony Browne is well known for his playful treatment of his illustrations, filling them with surreal details. Here he takes a step back. Certainly, there are intriguing details for young readers to explore; strange images that attract the attention – why is that crow (or is it a raven) holding a balloon? There are details to notice leading the mind to wonder if there is another story taking place outside the covers. Who is the old lady with red shoes, a matching handbag and a dog on a red lead? What can you find among the pebbles. It is the sense of space, the juxtaposition of the beach meeting the sea stretching out to the horizon that draws the reader in as we follow Danny and Scruff; then the moment of drama – the tension watching Scruff brave the waves – the rescue. The story celebrates the everyday, ordinary incidents that can become extraordinary. The language is direct, unfussy matter-of-fact. Yet the reader is held, immersed. In Danny’s little world. Brown’s artwork carries it through. His palette of browns, greens and blue merging into each other to create the atmosphere of the seaside, the silky move of the water, the roughness of the seaweed strand, the immensity draw the viewer in the experience this landscape. Taking in wide double page spreads to the progression through smaller panes as Scruff swims out then swims back, the images move through the events. At the heart of the narrative is the relationship between Danny and his brother, unspoken, perhaps a little spiky, but real nevertheless – and linking them is Scruff.