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Ears Up, Ears Down - Ralph da Costa Nunez, Margaret Menghini, Madeline Gerstein Simon, Leonard N. Stern Ears Up, Ears Down, was a melancholy, yet vaguely hopeful story designed to make children aware of the issue of homelessness, especially since kids may have friends whose families have recently lost homes. I was struck by several things about this book. Substance first:

1) Having a dog educate children about homelessness was a good idea. Kids generally empathize with animals, and having a dog without a home immediately taps into kids' feelings. We follow Ears Up, Ears Down as he comes to meet a homeless family, where the children educate him about what homelessness is, what its causes can be, and what homelessness feels like. The introduction of the children gives young readers/listeners more characters that they can relate to and learn from.

2) The book addresses homelessness among people and among animals. Good touch, since the two are often related.

3) We get a relatively quick resolution to Ears Up, Ears Down's story, but we don't get a resolution to the story of the people he encounters (maybe because homelessness is not a resolved issue?). Maybe children don't wonder about that because the dog is the primary character, but I wondered.

4) The story is well told and treats kids as smart enough and mature enough to be able to handle the topic of homelessness, but the authors were still mindful that children need to be protected a little bit from all of the ugly reality of life, and it doesn't leave them feeling afraid or insecure. The book touches on things, but it's left up to the adult to determine how much to expand this topic with kids.

Now for the aesthetics.

1) The colors in the illustrations were incredibly washed out. I suppose that one could argue that the washed out look is symbolic of the "unseen" feeling one may have when homeless, but I don't know about all of that. Lots can be made of it, I suppose. Whether the washed out look had meaning or not, the pictures were hard to see. I also didn't dig the look of the people. The dog was cute enough, but the people had these enormous heads, enormous eyes, and little itty bitty skinny necks. They were vaguely Picasso-esque, if you ask me.

Kids' reactions:

My niece seemed to like the book. But I don't know that it will stick with her. My nephew said he liked the book, but when I looked back at him he had his feet in the air and was playing bongo drums on his rear end. I'm not really sure he actually paid much attention to the book, but who knows, maybe he's great at multitasking!

Ultimately, Ears Up, Ears Down is a good enough story about homelessness. I think that [b:Mutt Dog!|573688|Mutt Dog!|Stephen Michael King|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328875862s/573688.jpg|560700] treats this topic well, too, but the illustrations in that book are much more appealing, in my opinion. Certainly the two books could be read in conjunction with one another for a solid kid-oriented approach to the topic of homelessness.