Arnold, Andrew

What's the Matter, Marlo?

(2) K-3 An unnamed little-boy narrator tells us about his best friend, Marlo. The two of them "do everything together" around their suburban neighborhood, and the illustrations often show them accompanied by a pet dog...until they aren't. One spread shows the narrator approaching Marlo, alone and dejected under a tree. There's a black scribble above the latter's head, indicating anger, as he tells his friend to go away. Unfortunately, the friend doesn't then ask the title's essential question, "What's the matter?" Instead, "I did what any good friend would do...I told a joke"--a dog joke, to be precise. Attentive viewers may then notice the absence of the beloved pet, and understand Marlo's consequent intensification of emotion. The black scribble expands, taking over page-turns, and Marlo disappears into the engulfing darkness. His friend finds him after a frantic search and, after the two are reunited in a fully detailed scene, notices a small mound of dirt with a ball and a dog collar hung on a stick. "I realized that Marlo wasn't just mad, he was sad, too," reads the text, leading to a hug between the friends. While Arnold's story treads familiar thematic territory with its depiction of a child grieving a pet's death, it is distinguished by its trust in readers to discover key parts of the narrative through the illustrations and to contemplate the full meaning of the events and emotions.


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