Nothing At All – 1942 Caldecott Honor Book

Nothing At All, a 1942 Caldecott Honor book authored and illustrated by Wanda Gag, tells the story of three orphan dogs who have been long-forgotten.  Each of their kennels mimics their own physical characteristics, such as pointy ears and curly ears, but the dog with rounded ears is invisible.  Yes – invisible, so his name is “Nothing At All.”  The two dogs that can be seen are found and adopted by children, but since Nothing was not noticed, he is left behind.  As he wanders nearby his home in an attempt to find his brothers, he comes across a bird who teaches him a magic chant to help him be seen.  Over the course of several days, he uses this incantation and slowly, but surely, becomes visible.  The children return for the dogs’ kennels  and, seeing the dog that is now called “Something,” adopt the third dog.

As I read through this book I was increasingly convinced that this book was a bit off-the-wall.  I will say, though, that since my kindergartener has been learning about zero or “nothing” as a quantity, that this book did reinforce that topic.

Caldecott Criteria:

1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – I do not consider these illustrations to be excellent.  The dogs look like sheep and I believe that many of these illustrations could have been executed with much more imagination.

2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – The only part of this story that is of note for its illustrations is the gradual change in Nothing as he develops spots, facial features, and an entire body.

3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.” – The style is very out-dated, but probably evoked great imagination from young readers living during the 40’s era.

4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” Only the characters and setting are clear.  The appearance of Nothing is the only central theme.

5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – My children did not seem overly confused by this book, as I was, but they were not very excited about it either.  I think if the pictures were larger it would be helpful.

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