Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess – Janet Hill, Tundra Books, 2016
When we meet Miss Moon, she is confidently driving her green roadster, seated on the right side, as she is taking a position as dog governess on an island off the French coast. Hat box, stuffed bunny, and other supplies are ready and waiting, as she prepares to become the Mary Poppins of canines.
If you are already familiar with Janet Hill’s later feline version of this challenge, you know that her lush artwork and aphoristic text are appealing to both adults and children. Miss Moon is elegant, calm, and flexible, the perfect teacher for dogs or people. Even one lesson, let alone twenty plus a class photo of graduates, is as reading a bedtime story to a group of really large dogs, and an owl listening quietly from the window.
Some of Miss Moon’s lessons are simple. “Never stop learning,” accompanied by dogs in spectacles, promotes knowledge through only the most basic of technologies. While the dogs are not facing the blackboard, we can assume they did earlier, before we entered the picture. Now they are looking straight out at us, as Miss Moons records something in her notebook, her arm affectionately around on of her students. Another dog holds a pen in his mouth. The whole scene is a bit like a Dutch interior, with apple, flowers, and tape dispenser strategically placed to convey scholarship. Kids who are not familiar with art history will love the fact that the dogs are more cooperative in school than they themselves are.
Some lessons are a bit more cryptic. “Respect the property of others” seems obvious enough, but paired with a picture of Miss Moon pointing out some funny graffiti on a beautiful equestrian portrait, we might ask exactly what is going on among her pupils? Again, children will see a small pug dog wearing a beret and seated next to an artist’s palette, looking embarrassed as his governess points out that he has failed to respect someone else’s belongings. Not only that, he thinks he is an artist, but he defaced a work of art! It is Miss Moon’s job to point out the contradictions here. The expression on her face is serious, but not unforgiving.
“Lesson Nine” features a bicycle-built-for- two or more, as a purposeful Miss Moon, wearing a modern helmet and steampunk goggles, transports her charges, all of whom are wearing protective headgear. “The impossible can become possible with a little creativity” is more of an incentive than a rule. Although Miss Moon is depicted holding a book in many of the chapters, she knows when to put it down and embrace the outdoors. Similarly, “Lesson Fourteen” is more of a fulfillment of Miss Moon’s philosophy than a necessary rule. Who among her pupils would not automatically “Always give the warmest of welcomes?” They rush towards her, and it’s not only because of her shopping bags full of food. Miss Moon, in her long green button front dress and crisp white collar, her stunning red hair, is the image of quiet authority. Young readers can spot a true mentor when they see one, even in the pages of a book. Parents and caregivers will appreciate Hill’s ability to capture complex values in the briefest of lessons. I am sure the fun will continue when she returns to an educational setting in her next book.