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The Picture Book Buzz

The Stray - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Were you the kid who brought home stray cats, dogs, squirrels, rabbits, . . .? Or maybe you rescued small wild animals - squirrels or birds? Snails or slugs?

One time when we were camping, my brother and I once brought goats to our campsite (though I honestly can't tell you where we found them, I only know they followed us back). Surprisingly, my father didn't want to adopt them! Though he did later adopt a stray dog that refused to leave our front porch.

Most people, thinking about "adopting" or bringing home a stray, envision a lost cat, puppy, or perhaps a bird. Helping these lost or needy animals is commendable. Though, it is advisable to have them evaluated by a veterinarian. Otherwise, if the animal belongs to another family, there may come a time when it will need to be returned. I know a family that had to surrender a cat, after loving it for 6 months, when a vet visit revealed a chip and it was returned to its original family. An equally joyous and heartbreaking moment. This weeks' #PPBF pick addresses this moment, in a rather unusual way.

I love when a picture book bends (or torques) our expectations or experiences. For instance, when the text and the illustrations share a theme but diverge significantly from each other. Such as where the humor is in the dog's actions behind his owners' presentation, where the characters' statements don't match their pets' actions, or the main characters search for a something that's following them.

This wonderful book not only torques our expectations, but examines a family's reaction to, and interaction with, someone they believe to be "a stray," who ends up merely being lost.

The Stray

Author/Illustrator: Molly Ruttan

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen/ Penguin Random House (2020)

Ages: 3-7



Pet adoption, family, humor, and aliens.

Synopsis (from Publisher):

Adopting an extraterrestrial leads to hilariously mixed results! When a family goes for a stroll one morning and encounters an adorable little creature with no collar or tag (who just happens to be sitting in the wreckage of an unidentified crash-landed object), they happily adopt the lovable stray. They name him Grub and set about training him, but that works surprisingly . . . poorly. Taking him for a walk is an unexpected adventure, too. As hard as they try to make Grub feel at home, it’s just not working. Could he already have a family of his own? Maybe he isn’t really a stray, after all–just lost. But how on earth will they be able to find his family when he seems to come from somewhere . . . out of this world?

Opening Lines:

Yesterday morning . . .

we found a stray.

He didn't have a collar,

and he didn't have a tag . . .

so we brought him home.

What I liked about this book:

Okay, you saw the cover. I bet you can make an educated guess as to who the stray is? BUT . . . what if you just read those opening lines without seeing the cover (or the illustrations)? I'd be willing to bet most of us would guess a dog, cat, or maybe even a goat?

Juxtaposed to this benign opening statement of finding an unidentified stray, Molly Ruttan's illustrations show a family on a stroll who, finding a crashed spaceship and an "unidentified" alien (see Monday's interview post for this image), matter-of-factly take it home. And name it "Grub."

© Molly Ruttan, 2020.

However, when they try to teach Grub, as one would a dog, standard "commands," they discover "he wasn't even house broken!" Again, a humorous 'understatement.' I love Molly's bright, imaginative, topsy-turvy illustrations. I'd have loved a 'pet' like this as a child!

© Molly Ruttan, 2020.

In two wonderful before and after spreads, the family takes Grub for a walk to meet the neighbors. Readers will enjoy lingering and flipping between these spreads to compare the humorous and fantastical results. Molly's created a super fun "spot the difference" picture puzzle between these spreads. It was fun trying to find the gnome in the first picture and I loved her nod to the "Free Little Libraries."

As the family imagines all the wonderful things they each could do with Grub, he mopes in the kitchen. And the family realizes that maybe "he already had a family somewhere else." [Anyone else see a "face" in that night sky?]

© Molly Ruttan, 2020.

As difficult as it is to find a terrestrial stray's home, imagine what one would have to do if you found an alien? While still containing a touch of whimsy, the illustrations also become quite poignant. Now that you're intrigued . . . you're gonna have to check out the book to discover the realistic yet satisfying ending.

Overall, this is a wonderful book exploring families and strays. Although otherworldly, it will provide a good starting point for discussions about found animals, fostering pets, and homeless animals. It is also a superb mentor text for examining the interaction of juxtaposed text and illustrations. This is one that kids and adults will enjoy reading and examining again and again.


- draw a picture, or write a list, of ways that you could try to find a lost animal (alien's) family.

- why, or how, do you think an animal becomes a stray? What are some ways that you can help?

- call a local shelter. Ask to make some toys or snuggle blankets for the animals - (ideas: and

- draw a picture or write a list of things you should do if you ever got lost.

If you missed the interview of Molly Ruttan on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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