Not since Perdita and Pongo (and Lady and her Tramp) have a duo of dogs made quite such a perfect coupling. In a world of contrasts, this is a true case of opposites attracting – but there’s a deeper message to this delightfully retro tale. 

“A little black dog and a little white dog were friends, and they stayed together and played together all day long.” The premise of two dogs, whose coats just happen to be in striking opposites of black and white, living happily in harmony seems charming but unremarkable today. But when you consider that Black And White was written in 1963, a year before US President JF Kennedy introduced the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin, the book takes on a much deeper poignancy about toleration and racial harmony.

Its deeper allegorical message aside, this is a magical tale that celebrates the author’s love of animals and wild life. Written with a light playful rhyming text that leads us from the dogs’ every-day domesticated life to their dream world filled with exotic creatures and wild landscapes from a tropical jungle to a snowy Arctic. The words, however, plays second fiddle to Ipcar’s painterly artistry and deft use of colour.

Simple silhouettes of an assortment of black and white animals are set against backgrounds that spring to life in the most splendid hues nature has to offer: shades of deep turquoise, olive green, warm golden mustard, dusty pink
and soft purply blue haze.

Each spread features black or white creatures whether it’s scampering dogs, plodding elephants, skittering monkeys or panthers poised to pounce, set against a vibrant background bursting with rich colour. Black and white zebras and antelopes graze on golden plains, swallows swoop in a romantic pink-tinged sky and snowy white polar bears, Arctic foxes and hares are streaked with soft pink brushstrokes and a monochrome shoal of fish swim in azure seas.

These tones and animal motifs are also echoed in the wonderfully graphic designs of the endpapers and edges of the title page – designs that would translate perfectly to make graphic textiles and soft furnishings. Special credit must also go to the publishers Flying Eye, for reviving Ipcar’s books for a new generation, and to the No Brow design team for the painstaking labour to lovingly restore the artwork to its original glory and creating a touchy-feely linen-effect matte cover. A classic book filled with retro charm and heaps of Mid-Century Modern design appeal.

Did you know? Veterinarians used to believe that dogs saw only in black and white, but recent studies suggest that they actually do have some colour vision, but it’s not as bright as a human’s. Dogs have only 20% of the cone photoreceptor cells – the part of the eye that controls the perception of colour – that humans have. Behavioral tests suggest that dogs see in shades of yellow and blue and lack the ability to see the range of colours from green to red. In other words, dogs see the colours of the world as basically yellow, blue, and grey.

Fun fact Dalmations, arguably the most famous of all black-and-white dogs, are born with plain white coats and their first spots usually appear within three weeks after birth. After about a month, they have most of their spots, although they continue to develop throughout life at a much slower rate.

Author notes Born in 1917, American author, artist and illustrator Dahlov Ipcar was encouraged by her parents from a young age to make art as she pleased. Both were distinguished artists: William Zorach and his wife Marguerite knew Picasso and were friends with Gertrude Stein. Dahlov grew up with her elder brother Tessim in a Greenwich Village house frequented by artists, including Max Weber, Hans Dietrich and Thomas Hart Benton.

Ipcar’s career has spanned five decades. She has written and illustrated over 30 children’s books, won the NEIBA (New England Independent Booksellers Association) President’s Award and the Kerlan Award for Children’s Literature. A true master of colour and organic form, Ipcar’s timeless stories have captured the hearts of children across the world. Some fifty years later, her books are still in print and continue to be cherished for the beauty of their art and quality of the narrative.