Clifford. Biscuit. Harry. Milo. Daisy. The Poky Little Puppy. Everyone loves a good dog book, don’t they? I’ve been on a hunt for good readaloud storytime books in my new job as a children’s librarian, and the other week I found one that I immediately wanted to share with the Story Warren family.
The story is Excellent Ed, a 2016 picture book by Stacy McAnulty, with illustrations by Julia Sarcone-Roach. Ed is a mutt of some kind, it seems — white with brown spots—and is drawn with a delightful combination of lifelikeness and cartoonishness. The endpaper illustrations of Ed rolling around on his back with his tongue lolling out especially reminded me of some mischievous pups I’ve been acquainted with. Ed is part of the Ellis family—Edith, Elaine, Ernie, Emily, and Elmer, plus Mom and Dad.
Poor Ed struggles with an all-too-common enemy: that sneaky voice of comparison.
He notices that all the Ellis children are allowed to sit on the couch, eat at the table, use the indoor bathroom, and even ride in the car. Ed wants to do all those things! Why can’t he? Is it because he isn’t excellent the way the Ellis kids are? Edith is an excellent ballerina, and Emily and Ernie are excellent at math. Ed sees the other Ellises being excellent at their various pursuits, but Ed does not think that he is excellent at anything. He starts to feel a bit down in the dumps. Every time he thinks of something that he might be excellent at (losing things, forgetting things, etc.), another Ellis seems to be already pretty good at it.
Of course, Ed ends up coming to appreciate himself and his own doggy giftings for what they are, but it’s not in a way that feels forced or fake; it’s a genuinely joyful discovery for Ed. There are some things he is great at that nobody else can do, and they are appreciated by the rest of the Ellis family! The Ellis kids don’t gloat over their own successes and skills, and neither does Ed; his discovery is that his limitations fit with his giftings. He’s not allowed to leave the house when the family goes on trips, but he’s wonderful at welcoming them home afterward. He can’t jump up on the couch, but he is the best one in the house at warming feet. There are things that Ed is excellent at, and they are his to take ownership of. I find this such a helpful reminder, even in picture book form. Like Ed, I know many people who struggle with questioning why they’re left out, why others are better at some things. Ed’s story isn’t heavy-handed or moralistic—it’s just the plain, beautiful truth that each of us is excellent in our own unique way.