Baby Bumbu: The Incredible Tale of an Amazing Dog
by John Koski
Illustrated by Ben Toyne
Outskirts Press

"It's possible because I have never allowed my limitations to define me.... Just because I'm a dog doesn't mean I’m confined to sniffing and barking."

Conjure the image of a dog sleeping on its back, in full slumber, and seemingly at complete peace. How many times have humans wondered what must be going through the minds of their fur babies in their blissful state? In Koski's novel, told from the point of view of a multi-talented golden retriever, Grace Ellen, this sentiment is explored in great depth along with the feeling of belonging that is central to a dog's healthy and fulfilling life. Koski's dedication page, commemorating a lifespan of canine companions, is simultaneously heartwarming and bittersweet as each one of the ten names on the list unlocks years of memories, love, warmth, community, and a sense of finality. At its core, Grace Ellen, also known as Amazing Gracie and more famously as Baby Bumbu, shows that for dogs, nothing truly trumps companionship and being part of their "pack."

While the story is full of hope and radiates positivity, it does justice to all aspects of being a dog. The narrative opens up to Grace Ellen's existence in a "blanket-lined cardboard box in Spring Grove, Wisconsin." The anticipation and excitement of being adopted by a forever family are on display, as well as the anguish upon being returned weeks later with the metaphorical—and for some dogs literal—label of "reject." The scene that follows sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Grace Ellen is drifting in and out of dreamland, experiencing everything from becoming an astronaut and inventor to being named National Puppy of the Year and a world-renowned mathematician. The accompanying illustrations, particularly for this segment, are evocative and, when combined with the text, are undoubtedly instrumental in establishing a whimsical tone throughout the piece.

When Grace Ellen finds a home in Eagle, Wisconsin, she suddenly has committed and caring pet parents in John and Mary and a best friend in Buddy. From encountering skunks to watching television and skating at Tom and Suzy's Roll-a-Rama, Grace Ellen's eventful early years show her maturation into a dog with uncanny abilities. Though not discussed in great depth due to the target audience, Grace Ellen's relief upon being adopted and The Scarlet Letter-like rejection stamp being erased clearly shows Koski's concern for kenneled dogs as they marinate in their rejection and await adoption. In particular, puppy mill practices can leave future pets scarred and in constant fear of humans, their surroundings, etc.

Those who currently share the blessing of canine companionship can instantly connect to Grace Ellen's life story, both the good and the bad. From her perspective, the twists and turns of the story begin with Bob and Betty's entry and Circus Fantastique. When a series of events and a strong degree of desperation prompt Bob and Betty to follow through on a hasty, risky, and inevitably criminal decision, Amazing Gracie finds herself in France, thousands of miles away from her loving family, as the main attraction for Circus Fantastique. Magical pirouettes and dancing with Betty eventually become jumping through flaming hoops. Soon enough, John and Mary's Gracie has become the renowned show-stopper, Baby Bumbu, the main attraction that audiences come to see. The touching journey that ensues is a testament that no amount of sausage patties and scrambled eggs can allow a dog to forget their pack.

The illustrations by Ben Toyne bring the text to life, allowing audiences to envision Grace Ellen throughout her journey. In fact, her action-packed experiences seem tailor-made for a graphic novel or comic that can further accentuate the audience connection. Grace Ellen/Baby Bumbu is loveable in every way. She not only represents the tenderness and caring nature of dogs but also exhibits the resolve to fight through adversity when circumstances become challenging. Ultimately a character-driven novel, the age-old sentiments of acceptance and camaraderie between canines and humans but seen from a dog's perspective is captivating and refreshing.

A 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

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