Adults and children alike develop such meaningful connections with our canine counterparts that it’s easy to get carried away with sentiment. The best kind of dog book reaches beyond easily captured sentimentality to illuminate something true about ourselves as we examine our relationships with our furry friends. These four picture books for preschoolers do exactly that.
In Patricia Carlin’s Alfie Is Not Afraid, a young dog owner claims his pup isn’t afraid of anything, which is why they’re going camping: “Just the two of us. Alone in the wild.” Readers can clearly see, however, that the little black-and-white Alfie is the opposite of “not afraid.” The loyal friendship between spindly-limbed boy and sturdy, low-to-the-ground dog is apparent in text and pictures on every amusing page. (3–7 years, Disney-Hyperion)
According to young Henry in Amy Hest’s Charley’s First Night, adopting a pup is a simple process: he names him Charley, carries him home, shows him around, agrees to feed and walk him, and also agrees to his sleeping in the kitchen “forever,” though — predictably — both wind up in Henry’s bed by night’s end. Helen Oxenbury’s art subtly transforms this forthright account into an unsentimental yet adorable recasting of an ever-reliable theme. (3–7 years, Candlewick)
The urban cattle dog of Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel’s Find a Cow NOW! spends his day zipping around the apartment trying to round things up. Bird, tired of this, explains Dog’s true calling: “Go! Find a cow NOW!” so Dog heads to the country. Knowing nothing of farm life, confused Dog tries to herd a chicken, a pig, etc., until a large animal with an udder offers to act as his escort. Stevens packs emotion into the canine’s frenetic movements and the cow’s gentle eyes. (3–7 years, Holiday)
The dog protagonists of Boot & Shoe share a lot of things, but Boot prefers the back porch and Shoe the front. When a squirrel gets both dogs riled up enough to give chase, each ends up on the wrong porch — and decides to wait for the other. The sprightly lines of Marla Frazee’s black-pencil and gouache illustrations add to the humor of this nimble tale of misplaced assumptions. (3–7 years, Beach Lane/Simon)
From the January 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.