Today is National Dog Day – a holiday that makes my dog-loving heart soar – despite the fact that I am still, somehow, only an imaginary dog owner. 🙁
Doglessness is tough. Ask any kid who has longed for a furry friend. Which is why today, I’m celebrating National Dog Day with a dog-centered book list. (Think of it as a gateway imaginary dog friend for those of us who can’t or don’t have the real thing).
I’m including some of my favorites, both old and new, because as any dog-lover knows, a dog friend stays in your heart forever.
Barbara O’Connor’s WISH is one of my favorite middle grade novels. It’s one of those books that I wish I had written – and Barbara is one of those authors I wish I could write as well as. Kid me would have adored this book.
Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. She even has a list of all the ways there are to make the wish, such as cutting off the pointed end of a slice of pie and wishing on it as she takes the last bite.
But when she is sent to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to live with family she barely knows, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is, until she meets Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard, a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in serious danger of discovering that what she thought she wanted may not be what she needs at all.
From award-winning author Barbara O’Connor comes a middle-grade novel about a girl who, with the help of a true-blue friend, a big-hearted aunt and uncle, and the dog of her dreams, unexpectedly learns the true meaning of family in the least likely of places.
This is a classic. Beverly Cleary’s first novel about life on Klickitat Street, HENRY HUGGINS pulled me in as a child and has stuck with me my whole life. When I think of the friendship between a kid and a dog, I think of Henry and Ribsy.And that scene in the street at the end? I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I refer to it far too often for far too many hard choices. Beverly Clearly followed up this book with two more great Henry Huggins books, Henry and Ribsy and Ribsy, but this one is my favorite.
Just as Henry Huggins is complaining that nothing exciting ever happens, a friendly dog sits down beside him and looks pleadingly at his ice-cream cone. From that moment on, the two are inseparable. But when Ribsy’s original owner appears, trying to reclaim his dog, Henry’s faced with the possibility of losing his new best friend. Has Klickitat Street seen the last of rambunctious Ribsy?
I read Heidi Lang’s RULES OF THE RUFF in ARC form and discovered I have a unrealized dream of being a dog walker. How did I not know that was a job when I was twelve? And why is it not my job now?
Twelve-year-old Jessie is in for a long, lonely summer at her aunt and uncle’s house. Her uncle is clueless, her aunt is downright frosty, and worst of all, her cousin Ann thinks Jessie isn’t cool enough to hang out with anymore. But Jessie is industrious, and—not content with being ignored all summer—she convinces Wes, a grouchy neighborhood dog walker, to take her on as his apprentice. Sure, dog walking turns out to be harder than she expected, but she has Wes’s dog-walking code, the Rules of the Ruff, to guide her, and soon, she’s wrangling her very own pack like the best of them. But when Monique, a charming rival dog walker, moves to town, she quickly snatches up most of Wes’s business—and Jessie decides she isn’t going to take this defeat with her tail between her legs.
This book breaks all my rules about animals and media, but I can’t keep myself from putting WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS on this list. The first time I read this book, I was working as a student-teacher in a seventh grade language arts class. I cried as I read it in my studio apartment when I prepared for our novel circles, and I cried again with my group of students as we read and discussed it one chilly winter afternoon. [Spoiler Alert: It will break your heart, and is my only exception to my Does the Dog Die rule.]
Billy has long dreamt of owning not one, but two, dogs. So when he’s finally able to save up enough money for two pups to call his own—Old Dan and Little Ann—he’s ecstatic. It doesn’t matter that times are tough; together they’ll roam the hills of the Ozarks.
Soon Billy and his hounds become the finest hunting team in the valley. Stories of their great achievements spread throughout the region, and the combination of Old Dan’s brawn, Little Ann’s brains, and Billy’s sheer will seems unbeatable. But tragedy awaits these determined hunters—now friends—and Billy learns that hope can grow out of despair, and that the seeds of the future can come from the scars of the past.
A student introduced me to Kate DiCamillo’s BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE and I am forever in her debt. (Thanks, Casey <3) A near perfect story about a girl and the dog who helps her make friends is a masterpiece of heart-felt story-telling. We should all be rescued by a dog like Winn-Dixie at least once in our lives.
The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket—and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie is better at making friends than anyone Opal has ever known, and together they meet the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of WAR AND PEACE. They meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar.
Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship—and forgiveness—can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.
What are your favorite dog-centered books? Please, share in the comments below. We can all use more imaginary dog friends. And, if you’re in a position to help, check out the National Dog Day website to learn more about ways to celebrate and rescue organizations, or make a donation to your local animal shelter or dog rescue.