Ask a child what depression is, and they most likely won’t be able to give you much of a definition. Present it metaphorically in a story as a large snarling, angry black dog who has stolen the people’s funny bone, and you may come nearer to the mark. As a metaphor for the effects of despair and depression in society this story is excellent. The plot is quite good but some parts seem a bit lengthy before action takes place so older children may lose interest three quarters of the way through.
The story was originally written for the 2011 St Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland. Each float going down the street would tell a different chapter in the story. Booker prize-winning author Roddy Doyle tells more about this in his you-tube video at www.roddydoyle.ie/
The two main characters in the story, Gloria and Rayzer, overhear their Gran saying that the “black dog” of depression has got their Uncle Ben. The children interpret this literally and set out in the dark of night to locate and pursue the snarling dog. It has got their Uncle Ben’s funny bone and thereby taken away his sense of humour.
Soon more and more children join the group running through the night. The dog bites back, is mean and relentless yelling, “USELESS!” to try to thwart the spirit of the children. The only word that is powerful enough to make the dog turn away is the word “Brilliant!” which the children shout whenever the dog starts to get the better of them.
The only cautions I would have are a bit too much use of the phrase: “Oh my God!” and that a large part of the story seems to dwell on the chase of the dog. The final rather quick scene at the zoo and Phoenix Park where about a third of the story happens in only a few pages.
The character of the weird vampire-kid that Gloria and Rayzer meet may end up being the most-loved part of the whole story for children. All in all, it was quite creatively written with a very worthwhile theme not often pursued in children’s literature.
A former children’s librarian, Jane Fagan is currently a full-time mother of two.