A couple of years ago, I was writing in a café, watching a fluffy, white labradoodle sit patiently outside, while her blonde-haired owner drank coffee and soaked up the sun. Every few seconds, people paused to say hello to that dog called Chelsea; old women in berets clutching shopping lists and bills, the postman on his motor bike, toddlers in tutus detouring for a babycino on the way back from dance. Shy, tentative kids dipped their chubby fingers through Chelsea’s curly fur, their small faces suddenly bright as spotlights, knocked sideways by the glory of that dog.
It struck me then how irresistible dogs can be, how quickly they strike up connections between strangers. The way they make small, ordinary moments resonate with tenderness. Chelsea was like a woolly Queen that morning and she gathered in a whole community of unrelated followers. Every single one of us wanting to chat and pat, to pay tribute to her. All of us going away from that café, with laughter and smiles and a sense of blessing on our fingertips. I think I wrote ‘The Whole Caboodle’ as a small poetic homage to the mutual and often exuberant love between dogs and their owners; the sometimes insensible, crazy love-struck nature of it.
As I walked my own dogs in parks over many years, relishing how often they helped me to see the world anew, I was astonished to keep meeting an endless variety of oodle breeds. I loved the unbelievable deliciousness of their names; bassetoodles, whoodles, poogles, weimerdoodles, scoodles, cavoodles, foxhoodles, spoodles, schnoodles, groodles and spitzoodles, to name but a few. I counted them up and kept a record of them in my writing journal, wondering what I might do with them. Over time, I began to think about what dogs most like to do at the park; run, catch, sniff, roll, beg for treats, jump into the pond, get their leads tangled, drink from a puddle, growl, fight, fall in love, smooch, prance, dance, watch clouds in a trance, chase balls, shadows, birds, bugs and their own tails.
Funnily enough, I began to ponder the possibility of writing a counting book. Like many of my picture book texts, I left the idea to stew for a while, to quietly rumble away beneath the surface. And then one day, I wrote these lines, ‘My bubba, my chubba, my lubbedy-wubba, who shall we see at the park today? Will we see…one poodle with her clickety-tickety toes?’ It was far from perfect but in that tiny snatch, I had an inkling of voice, a sense of relationship and a hint of adventure and motion.
Although ‘The Whole Caboodle’ is the shortest text I have ever written, it’s probably one of the richest in terms of word play. Aside from the poetic playfulness of the dog breed names, I also layered in English giteigo or flip-flop words to create a satisfying internal rhythm. This helped to distinguish one dog breed from one another but also to capture a little bit of their personalities: those lovey-dovey bolonoodles, racey-chasey giant schnoodles, hoity-toity pomeroodles and dizzy-whizzy spitzoodles etc. I also wanted to explore the comical language of endearments, the way we use strange words and phrases to express both the extravagance and the particularity of our love for others. I hoped children would soak up the hilarity and the delight in those endearments, whilst absorbing the quiet truth that they too are lubbly-jubbly strudels to those that love them!
I am astonished to find myself the author of a counting picture book though. The reality is that I was paralysed with dread about counting as child. I was terrified about making mistakes, because whenever anyone in my Year One class did get something wrong in maths, we were made to stand on our chairs, so our teacher could deliver fast, stinging slaps to our legs. Although words saved me in that class and I clung on to my capacity to read early and with great fluency, my confidence around working with numbers never fully recovered. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that I have written a picture book where counting takes place unobtrusively and gently, in the context of story, in the context of play, within the warmth of relationship and exuberant love. It happens in the company of a small dog, on the way to a dog park, in the everyday, in a way that celebrates looking, seeing, searching and finding, in a way that delights in equal measure, in the deliciousness of numbers and words.
I’m so incredibly grateful to Leila Rudge for her wonderful illustrations. She has taken a short, short text and invented a whole world. I love how the small details speak volumes; the wistful hand-drawn illustrations of dogs above the bed in the opening illustration, capturing a whole history of love and loss. The funny, clever way the grizzly bear owner looks so much like his peachy pear dog: their matching fuzzy auburn beards and the red tints of their clothing. The way this is also beautifully picked up on the very last page too, the visual echo between the cake lady and her Great Danoodle. I love the diversity of the human characters they meet on the way to the park and the innovative way the hidden dogs on each page reflect the shape of their real life counterparts, making it easier for readers to keep on counting, to pick out each particular breed from the whole caboodle of fifty-five dogs on the second last page.
What continues to amaze me about making picture books is just how much the illustrations contribute so many subtle and unspoken emotional layers to a story. In one sense, ‘The Whole Caboodle’ is a book about a man and his dog going for a walk to the park, wondering about who they might meet when they get there. On another level though, the pictures capture the exquisite rhythms of a parent and child relationship. In an entirely unconscious way, the peachy pear dog is like an inquisitive child, rushing forward to explore the world, with boundless enthusiasm, struggling against restraint, followed closely by a delighting and watchful parent. But when the peachy pear dog arrives at the park and is overwhelmed and suddenly terrified by the world, it leaps straight back up into the arms of the grizzly bear owner, who relishes being able to offer comfort and consolation.
One of my favourite illustrations is the wordless tailpiece. It’s on this very last page that the grizzly bear owner and his peachy pear dog meet the lady from the cake shop, with her Great Danoodle. And suddenly there are tangled dog leads, small shy smiles, cupcakes and spilt coffee, the spark of love and sweet awkwardness. Although I didn’t come up with this as an ending, I am overjoyed by it. I think it speaks so powerfully to what I have observed to be true about dogs, the way they can knock us sideways into unexpected community. And of course, I am a complete sucker for even the slightest hint of a gorgeous, romantic happy ending!
A picture book is always read repeatedly. I’m so grateful for the detail and delicacy of Leila’s work, for the way this allows emotional and relational depth to unfold in every subsequent reading. I hope children will giggle their heads off over the funny, delicious words and rhymes in the text. I hope they count with great confidence all the hidden dogs, while ensconced in the laps of those that love them. When those children finally meet the whole caboodle, I hope they stroke those abundant, glorious dogs and come away with laughter and smiles and a sense of blessing on their fingertips.
Bug in a Book Blog
“This book is “a winner” on many levels. It is an imaginative book (Lisa Shanahan CBCA award-winning author) with fabulous illustrations (Leila Rudge CBCA shortlisted illustrator) which makes a winning combination. There are hidden dogs to find on each page, great dog names which will make you LOL and we are reminded through the story about community, companionship and diversity. There is a lot to like about this book.” Megan Stuart
“Highly recommended. Dogs. Pets. Counting. Word play…A wonderful read aloud, an amazing prediction text and a marvelous way with words will greet all readers. The play on words begins with all the names for the designer dogs based around poodle, so adults and children alike will have a lot of fun working out the mixture of dog breeds and working some out for themselves to add to the story. The coloured pencil and wash illustrations are most attractive, giving lots of detail for the eyes to peruse and take in. There are many funny moments on the pages offering incidents which dog owners will recognise immediately all culminating with a double page full of dogs to drool over.” Fran Knight
“Lisa Shanahan brought us the irrepressible ‘Bear and Chook’ and has a knack of capturing the thrill of story within singsong narrative. ‘The Whole Caboodle’ no exception and offers ‘oodles’ of imaginative linguistic word play with the added bonus of walking 3–5-year-olds through some fun counting rhymes. It’s more of a stroll-through-the-park-spot-the-hidden-dog-breed than a full-blown doggie tale, but Rudge’s expressive illustrations will keep you tugging at the leash for more. Great for kids who are into dogs and all their varied shapes and sizes.” Dimity Powell
Drop Bear Book Review
“‘The Whole Caboodle’ by Lisa Shanahan & Leila Rudge is oodles of fun with nonsense words (an oodle-ised dog breed checklist, essentially) and a journey to the park that's one-part counting game, one-part look and find. The concept is great, and illustrations--in a soft, colourful palette—are adorable. 4yo drop bear—enjoyed the look and find element and loved the cupcakes featured on the 'nine huffy-snuffy great danoodles' page (really, I mean, L-oved.)” Angie Schiavone
“‘The Whole Caboodle’ is a delightfully refreshing and surprising counting book. Using lyrical language with a rhythm which rolls exquisitely off the tongue this is a book begging to be read aloud over and over again…This picture book is fabulous for preschool readers, especially lovers of dogs and bubbly language.” Jenny Heslop