Letting Charlie Bow Go

4 January 2023

Letting Charlie Bow Go
by Denise Leduc, Illustrated by Olha Rastvorova
Published by Lilac Arch Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$15.99 ISBN 9781778286902

Dogs are extraordinary companions, but there are consequences to owning—and loving—a dog, and one of the hardest to bear is the fact that most of us outlive our beloved pets. Farewells are perhaps especially difficult for those families who’ve had a dog grow up alongside their children. How to imagine the family without the four-legged member that’s been there from the beginning? When is the right time to say goodbye?

In Letting Charlie Bow Go, a beautifully-produced softcover children’s book by Saskatchewan writer Denise Leduc and illustrated by Olha Rastvorova, the author journeys readers through the life and loss of a child narrator’s dog and best friend, an interestingly-named American Staffordshire: Charlie Bow. The cover illustration—Rastvorova is especially talented with dog images—shows a child hugging a dog who’s obviously loving the affection. Though the dog’s face is visible, we only see the child from the back. What’s remarkable here is that so much emotion’s transmitted through the cover image alone. It’s impossible not to want to read the story inside.

Leduc instantly establishes the connection between the young female narrator and Charlie Bow. “We do everything together,” the girl says. “She sleeps in my bed. Sometimes right on top of me! She is the snuggliest.” The use of “snuggliest” is endearing and gives the child’s diction credibility. We learn that the narrator likes to dress her dog up. “She likes all clothes, except for boots. Charlie Bow does not like wearing boots.” I’ve not known a dog that does! Including this detail also gives the story the ring of truth.

As the book continues we both see and read about the adventures Charlie Bow enjoys with her family, from lake swimming to car rides, including a “road-trip right across the country.” The gorgeous cover illustration shows up again— surrounded by plenty of white space so it really pops and also gives the words room to breathe on the page—when the girl admits that Charlie Bow helps her when she’s sad or mad: “ … she is there wagging her tail and wiggling her bum trying to help me smile.”

The story’s tone changes with this: “She is getting old.” Now Charlie Bow’s tired and “doesn’t want to eat,” so the concerned family takes her to vet Julie (perhaps real-life vet Dr. Julie de Moissac, whom I know), but nothing can be done. “The sun is setting” is an apt metaphor for the dog’s final days.

The remaining pages are dedicated to dealing with the grief that follows the loss of a dear pet, and the final page’s past tense echo of the first page is poetic and bittersweet.

It’s been said that the risk of love is loss and the price of loss is grief, but the pain of grief’s a mere shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love. For all the joy they give us, dogs are worth the eventual consequence of loss—Leduc and Rastvorova make that beautifully and abundantly clear.


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