Dogs! This summer, we’ve been noticing dogs are at the heart of many books that kids (and adults) love–and have been asking ourselves, what is it about dogs anyway? A great excuse to dig in with a book flight! In these books, both classic and new, you’ll meet dogs that are brave and courageous, cute and funny, loyal and adventurous. Some of us love dogs–they can be so darn cute, remind us to be playful, and listen to you with those loving eyes gazing at you. Some of us are not dog people; they often slobber or jump all over you, they can be a bit scary–and hey, they do bite! But whether you are a committed dog lover or not, books about dogs are something we can all enjoy. Starting with a couple of terrific family readalouds. . .
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
The whole family will enjoy this moving (Newbery award winning!) story of a beagle who follows a boy home from a walk in the woods. The two form a special bond–and Marty brings his new friend he’s named Shilhoh home to his close-knit family. Even though it’s clear that Shiloh has been mistreated, his mom and dad insist he do “the right thing” and return him to his “rightful owner,” a local man who is abusing him. It’s a powerful and deeply moving story about young Marty’s moral dilemma and deciding what is “the right thing” to do. But it’s not a one-note story; the characters are believable, the plot is intriguing, and the language draws readers–and listeners–in. Lots of opportunity for extended conversations.
Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery, illustrated by Jean Cassels.
Meet the two Bobbies: Bobcat and Bobby, two pets abandoned during the Katrina evacuation. They wandered around New Orleans together for at least 4 weeks before they were turned over to an animal shelter and named by the workers. Their story is told simply, but with a compelling narrative that unfolds to draw readers in. At the shelter, when the two friends are separated, Bobby creates such a ruckus that they bring Bobcat to him, and the volunteer workers discover that Bobcat is blind, and Bobby has been acting as his “seeing eye dog.” Though the original owners are never found, the two Bobbies are eventually adopted by a new family. The illustrations are just right for the book, in soft pastel shades that complement the text. I appreciated the real-life photo of the two critters included in the Afterword. This book has been enjoyed by the many children we’ve shared it with–and has brought tears to the eyes of adult animal lovers.
Toddler and Pre-school:
A book for toddlers and pre-schoolers that is a tribute to dogs–and interactive books. The fun begins even before you open the book: the dogs on the cover have texture (furry) or can move by pulling a tab. From there, the book adventure grows. Brief, informative, rhyming text really does share information about dogs–and there are so many clever and playful ways to pet and pull, lift and slide tabs–and generally have a great time with the book. The good news about the book construction is that it’s quite sturdy and well-made, so it can survive the amount of wear and tear that’s bound to happen. Cute and clever!
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
Harry is an adventurous and slightly rebellious dog. He likes most everything–except his bath. Taking matters into his own paws, he buries his bath brush and takes off on an extended romp before his family can get him into the bathtub. As he plays in the street,he gets pretty dirty–and then dirtier and dirtier as he explores the railroad, and plays tag with his doggy friends. By the time he goes down a coal chute, he has changed from a white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots. His own family can’t recognize him! Of course, happy resolution when he digs up the scrub brush and begs his family for a bath. The board book is great for the littlest readers–and up through the primary grades for the paperback binding.
I Got Two Dogs by John Lithgow, illustrated by Robert Neubecker
Here’s a treat: a funny, engaging, and tuneful sing-along book, with accompanying CD, that sings an ode to Fanny and Blue, John Lithgow’s two much-loved dogs. The combined lyrics and clever illustrations tell stories that will amuse and delight about the sometimes frantic world of owning dogs–especially ones as loyal as Fanny and Blue.
The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford and Donald Cook
We’re always on the lookout for true historical accounts, told in easy-to-read format for new readers. This is one that will capture young readers interest as they read the incredible story of a sled-dog who leads his team through snow and ice in Alaska to deliver medicine. In 1925, there was an outbreak of diphtheria and the closest medicine was over 800 miles away in Anchorage. When the train that was carrying the needed medicine broke down, people’s loves depended on a dog sled relay. The suspenseful narrative makes for a really exciting read. Balto became a national hero, too–and even inspired a statue in his honor, thousands of miles away in New York City.
Who Wants to Be a Poodle? I Don’t by Lauren Child
Trixie Twinkletoes is the poodle in question, living a life of luxury with the fabulous and glamorous Mademoiselle Brulee. Does Trixie love her life of primping and lovely plump pillows, a maid to fix her sweet treats, and being dressed in little pink ponchos? She does not! She longs for the dangerous life, tromping through puddles, chewing newspapers, having adventures rather than being coddled. Reading to the rescue ( luckily this dog can read): “How to Change Your Dog Image.” This gives her the courage to take action! Lauren Child’s story is off-beat and funny–and the illustrations make the book a real visual delight, with wild patterns and fonts that add to the fun.
There are lots of books about Hachico, a dog who became a national symbol for loyalty and hope in Japan. Hachi, much beloved by his owner, Professor Ueno, accompanies the professor to the train station each morning, and is there awaiting his return each evening. When the owner dies unexpectedly at work, Hachi continues to return to the train station daily, never giving up for the rest of his life of over 10 years. The author adds a fictional boy to this true story that helps make the book both moving and accessible to young readers as well as older audiences. A touching book for all animal lovers!
Tweens and Teens:
Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata
Cynthia Kadohata, a respected adult novelist and author of such amazing YA books as Kira Kira (Newbery medal winner ) and Weedflower tells the story from the viewpoint of Cracker, an army dog in Vietnam. Originally bred to be a showdog, Cracker suffers a broken leg and enters a new phase of her life. Her new handler is Rick, a 17-year-old new soldier. Much of the book is about the bond between the teen-ager, who wonders often why he is there, and Cracker, who takes on her new responsibilities in Vietnam using her senses to help her team accomplish their goals. A respectful and loving look at dogs–and a great read even for folks who aren’t “dog people.”
Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow
“Heart” and “history” are two key words to describe this book. Zasha is a beautiful German Shepherd, whose misfortune it is to be roaming the Russian countryside during World War II,where all things German–even breeds of dogs–are hated. It’s even considered traitorous for Mikhail and his family to give her shelter. When Zasha has pups, their difficult mission to hide and protect the dog family increases. Told by Mikhail, we see the terrors and tension of the war when spies detect dog hairs on clothes, and other frightening small–and large–moments. I had no idea that almost all the dogs of certain breeds were destroyed in Russian during World War II. Great story line and character development.
Old Dogs are the Best Dogs by Gene Weingarten, photographs by Michael S. Williamson
In these pages, you’ll find photos and stories of favorite old dogs. One friend called it “the heartfelt celebration of the gray muzzle.” The brief bios of each dog are quite witty and portray all kinds of dogs, charming in their own way: the dog who thinks he’s a cat; the one who is mischievous; another who is quirky (or devoted or adventurous). A loving journey in celebration of enduring relationships with special dogs. A great family book to share.
The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel by Garth Stein
Enzo, a lab terrier mix, is the unlikely narrator of this funny, endearing, and at times heart-wrenching story. Enzo loves his owner, and he loves auto racing which happens to be what his owner does). Enzo has spent a lifetime of watching TV (and notes many philosophical aspects of say, the Weather Channel) and of course hours of TV racing footageg. He’s a great listener, and companion to Denny , his hard-luck owner. There is love, adventure, and tragedy is this fine, well-crafted story. Dog-lover or not, this is a book that catches you up and holds you until the last page.