Gaston by Kelly Di Pucchio – Reviewed by Pamela Stegink

As a child I have vivid memories of sitting at the dinner table, looking at my brother and sister sitting on either side of me and wondering, “How could we three have the same parents, live within the same four walls yet be so different? Maybe they were adopted at birth.” Gaston, written by Kelly DiPucchio, explores the themes of family differences, love and acceptance.

I first met Gaston and author Kelly DiPucchio for that matter at the Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference in March. I attended a session with Donalyn Miller, the Book Whisperer. She whispered, “Gaston.” I raced to the conference book sale and nabbed one of the last copies. I struck up a conversation with a woman who gave me cuts in line. “What are you buying?” she asked. I read the titles of the books in my folded arms and then added proudly, “And… Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio. I’m going to have her sign it.” She smiled, “That’s me!” Instant fandom!

Gaston is a splendidly written and exquisitely illustrated picture book you will enjoy on many levels. It is a charming story about two dog families; the Bulldogs and the Poodles. Gaston is a French Bulldog born into the Poodle family. Mrs. Poodle teaches her adorable little designer puppies to yip, never yap, to sip, never slobber, and to walk with grace. As the Poodle pups grow up, one grows quite a bit more than the others. Gaston isn’t quite like his siblings. Yet he always works the very hardest to get it right. To fit in. To be the very best Poodle pup.

Antoinette is a poodle born into the Bulldog family. Mrs. Bulldog’s children are a boisterous bunch. Like her brothers, Antoinette, loves to romp. One afternoon the Bulldog and Poodle families meet at the park. Suddenly, they notice the big mistake. It is staring them in the face. It is obvious. The two families set out to right the wrong.Gaston realizes he looks more like the Bulldogs than his Poodle family. Antoinette realizes she looks more like the Poodles than the Bulldogs. But sometimes differences that are apparent on the outside are not differences on the inside.  Mrs. Poodle and Mrs. Bulldog love their children for who they are on the inside and Gaston and Antoinette learn a thing or two about being themselves.

Gaston is a beautiful story about being yourself and celebrating what makes you unique. Gaston is a great book to share as a springboard for celebrating differences and showing kids that what makes them special is really what is on the inside. It is also a valuable mentor text for teaching writer’s craft lessons on alliteration and how to use contrast for effect in writing. The Poodle family puppies are “proper… precious…pink” and the Bulldog family pups are “brutish… brawny…brown”. This book should be on the bookshelf of every elementary classroom.

Other books written by Kelly DiPucchio include The Sandwich Swap, Zombies in Love, and Zombies in Love 2+1. Gaston was artfully illustrated by Christian Robinson. He also illustrated another one of my favorite 2015 picture books, Last Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Peña.

gaston with pam's dogPamela Stegink is a teacher, a dreamer, a writer, and a lover of books. She has four cats and a Golden Retriever, Casey, who would love to romp at the park with Rocky, Ricky, Bruno and Antionette. She can be followed on Twitter @pstegink.