Recommended pet stories

The books recommended below, all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine, were published within the last several years. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.

Picture books

Suggested grade level listed with each entry.

My Rhinoceros written and illus. by Jon Agee (Scholastic/di Capua)
A kid gets a rhinoceros as a pet. A rhinoceros expert tells him that rhinos only do two tricks: pop balloons and poke holes in kites. During a robbery, the rhino pops and pokes and saves the day. Wry, understated paintings and the text’s tough-as-rhino-hide structure encourage rereading. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

No Dogs Allowed! written by Linda Ashman, illus. by Kristin Sorra (Sterling)
Faced with a restaurant’s “NO DOGS ALLOWED” sign, a boy and his dog sit at a fountain outside. Soon there’s a crowd of people with pets enjoying the hospitality of a nearby ice cream stand. Digital art filled with an outrageous assortment of animals is full of heart. 40 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Bailey written and illus. by Harry Bliss (Scholastic)
Bailey loves school. Then again, he’s the only dog at Champlain Elementary. Straightforward sentences tell a day-in-the-life story while pithy speech and thought bubbles bring on the giggles. Rereading will reveal humorous details in the illustrations. Also see Bailey at the Museum. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

One Cool Friend written by Toni Buzzeo, illus. by David Small (Dial)
Eliot takes a penguin home in his backpack after a trip to the aquarium. As the illustrations reveal, the whole droll scenario works because Eliot’s father is so focused on his own obsession with turtles that he is humorously oblivious to what Eliot is doing. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Alfie Is Not Afraid written and illus. by Patricia Carlin (Hyperion)
Dog Alfie’s young owner claims Alfie isn’t afraid of anything, which is why they’re going camping. Readers can clearly see, however, that the little pup is the opposite of “not afraid.” The loyal friendship between boy and dog is apparent in text and pictures on every amusing page. 32 pages. Grade level: PS.

Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic written and illus. by Mônica Carnesi (Penguin/Paulsen)
One cold day in Poland, onlookers along the banks of the Vistula River see a little dog adrift on a sheet of ice. Finally, seventy-five miles from journey’s start, he’s rescued. Simple yet dramatic watercolors convey the wintry setting and Dog’s emotions in this adventure story. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Melvin and the Boy written and illus. by Lauren Castillo (Holt)
A boy desperately wants a pet. His parents veto every suggestion until, remarkably, they approve his acquisition of a wild turtle from the park. Expressive art conveys his longing for an animal friend, joy at finding one, and realization that a wild animal shouldn’t be cooped up. 40 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Prudence Wants a Pet written by Cathleen Daly, illus. by Stephen Michael King (Roaring Brook/Porter)
When Mom and Dad won’t get her a pet, Prudence uses her imagination; unfortunately, a shoe named Formal Footware and baby brother Milo don’t pan out. Dry humor and a wonderfully persistent protagonist elevate this book above typical kiddo-wants-a-pet fare. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

No Dogs Allowed! written and illus. by Anne Davis (HarperCollins/Harper)
Tabby-cat Bud (Bud and Gabby) objects to pup Cookie’s making herself at home. When Bud’s “NO DOGS ALLOWED” rule forces Cookie out into a storm, Bud and Gabby must rescue her. Paintings with bold colors and clear focus give each animal a distinct personality. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Carl at the Dog Show written and illus. by Alexandra Day (Farrar/Ferguson)
Carl and Madeleine’s usual gentle havoc — here at a dog show — is counterpointed by casually elegant watercolors, which provide lots of detail about dog showing as they illustrate the mostly wordless drama. Each spread rewards close attention. 40 pages. Grade level: PS

Ready for Pumpkins written and illus. by Kate Duke
Classroom pet guinea pig Herky gets a gardening itch after he watches the first graders’ seeds grow. Off in the country for summer vacation, he plants some pumpkin seeds with his rabbit friend Daisy. Duke communicates Herky’s every feeling with deftly expressive lines. 40 pages. Grade level: PS.

RRRalph written and illus. by Lois Ehlert (Simon/Beach Lane)
Family dog RALPH can say several different words, including where he is (on his doghouse “ROOF”) and that the ground feels “ROUGH.” It’s a giggle-worthy premise; and doubling the fun are Ehlert’s brilliantly composed collages. 40 pages. Grade level: PS.

Boot & Shoe written and illus. by Marla Frazee (Simon/Beach Lane)
Dogs Boot and Shoe share a lot of things, but Boot prefers the back porch and Shoe, the front. After chasing a squirrel, each ends up on the wrong porch — and decides to wait for the other. The sprightly lines illustrations add to the humor of this tale of misplaced assumptions. 40 pages. Grade level: PS.

One Moon, Two Cats written by Laura Godwin, illus. by Yoko Tanaka (Atheneum)
The moon prompts parallel wakeful behavior from a cat in town and one in the country. A panoramic scene almost brings the two together — but a clap of thunder sends them scurrying home. Succinct verse and acrylic art capture the felines’ serene and agile grace. 32 pages. Grade level: PS.

Cecil the Pet Glacier written by Matthea Harvey, illus. by Giselle Potter (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
Ruby longs for a pet — but the glacier fragment named Cecil that follows her home from a Norwegian vacation is not what she had in mind. The matter-of-fact text is matched by lush, quirky watercolors that somehow give a chunk of ice personality. 40 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Charley’s First Night written by Amy Hest, illus. by Helen Oxenbury (Candlewick)
Young Henry’s parents are “pretty clear” that new puppy Charley must sleep in the kitchen. Henry and Charley disagree and — not surprisingly — are both in Henry’s bed by night’s end. Henry’s forthright account is extended by subtle details in the illustrations. 32 pages. Grade level: PS.

Nini Lost and Found written and illus. by Anita Lobel (Knopf)
Cat Nini loves her fireplace, couch, etc. But someone has left the door open, and out she goes to explore. When the sky darkens, can Nini find her way home? There’s just enough tension for preschoolers, but the pictures are too warm to suggest anything but a happy ending. 40 pages. Grade level: PS.

Goyangi Means Cat written by Christine McDonnell, illus. by Steve Johnson (Viking)
Soo Min, a little girl from Korea, is joining her new parents in the states; she bonds with the family cat (goyangi in Korean). When Goyangi slips out of the house, Soo Min fears that he’s gone forever. Gentle collage illustrations accompany the text. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

The Case of the Missing Donut written by Alison McGhee, illus. by Isabel Roxas (Dial)
In a crime caper for the picture book set, a boy (“the sheriff”) and his dog (“the deputy”) must escort a box of a dozen donuts home from the bakery. One donut goes missing. The snappy text plays it straight, while evidence in the illustrations allows the reader in on the joke. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Snook Alone written by Marilyn Nelson, illus. by Timothy Basil Ering (Candlewick)
Rat terrier Snook belongs to Abba Jacob, a monk who lives on an Indian Ocean island. When Snook is mistakenly left on a nearby island, he weathers a storm, then begins his long wait for the monk’s return. Acrylic and ink art depicts heavy- and light-hearted moments equally well. 48 pages. Grade level: K–3.

A Ball for Daisy written and illus. by Chris Raschka (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
In this wordless story, dog Daisy and her owner play catch. All goes well until another dog, joining in play, pops Daisy’s big red ball. The Caldecott-winning illustrations communicate much through Daisy’s posture, varying the line to echo her emotions. Also see Daisy Gets Lost. 32 pages. Grade level: PS.

Hip Hop Dog written by Chris Raschka, illus. by Vladimir Radunsky (HarperCollins/Harper)
With tight rhymes and endearing braggadocio, this hip-hop dog relates his hardscrabble upbringing. Deliberately rough-around-the-edges art shows a shaggy-pelted pup with backward baseball cap pulled low. The freestyle page design often features text spiraling around our hero. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat written by Susanna Reich, illus. by Amy Bates (Abrams)
Drawing from Child’s own writing, this is as truthful an account as could be hoped for — while still being told from Julia Child’s cat’s point of view. Reich has a storyteller’s instinct for entrancing incident and a poet’s gift for sound and sensory detail. 40 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Aggie the Brave written by Lori Ries, illus. by Frank W. Dormer (Charlesbridge)
In this third book about dog Aggie and her owner Ben, “Aggie is going to the vet to get spayed.” Three chapters divide the text for newly independent readers while smart page breaks pace the story. 48 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Windows with Birds written and illus. by Karen Ritz (Boyds Mills)
After moving into an apartment, a cat misses the family’s former abode. Realistic illustrations providing close-up views accompany the cat’s narrative. The story acknowledges the truth about a new household — that some things are different while some are the same, or even better. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Bone Dog written and illus. by Eric Rohmann (Roaring Brook)
Gus, trick-or-treating past a graveyard dressed as a skeleton, has a secret weapon against the real skeletons that taunt him: the ghost of his dog Ella. The relief prints, with forceful black lines and high contrast, accentuate the weight of the story’s emotion. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Scrawny Cat written by Phyllis Root, illus. by Alison Friend (Candlewick)
A once-loved stray cat takes refuge in a moored dinghy. It breaks free, and he’s blown over the sea to an island home owned by Emma, a lonely former sailor. The story is expertly paced; expansive gouache illustrations represents the cat’s affecting emotions with verve. 40 pages. Grade level: K–3.

The Trucker written and illus. by Barbara Samuels (Farrar)
Truck-lover Leo wants nothing to do with pet cat Lola. After some impressive rescue work (Bunny is trapped in a pretend burning building), Lola wins Leo over. Both the fine-lined art and the affectionate text get the details of common childhood experiences just right. 40 pages. Grade level: PS.

Me Want Pet! written by Tammi Sauer, illus. by Bob Shea (Simon/Wiseman)
Searching for a pet, Cave Boy brings home a woolly mammoth (too big), then a saber-toothed tiger (Papa has allergies), then a dodo bird (not housebroken). But the animals all help stave off a stampede, changing the minds of Mama, Papa, and Gran Cave. 40 pages. Grade level: PS.

When Jack Goes Out written and illus. by Pat Schories (Boyds Mills)
In this fifth wordless book about Jack the dog, the tiny space guys from Jack and the Night Visitors make a return nocturnal visit. Landing on top of Jack’s doghouse, they unhook his chain so he can join in their gleeful exploration of the backyard. 32 pages. Grade level: PS.

Find a Cow Now! written by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel, illus. by Janet Stevens (Holiday)
Zipping around the apartment, trying to round things up, urban cattle dog Dog longs for the herding life. But once on the farm, Dog is clueless; readers will spot the cow before he does. Stevens packs a lot of emotion into the canine’s frenetic body movements and the cow’s gentle eyes. 32 pages. Grade level: PS.

Ginger and the Mystery Visitor written and illus. by Charlotte Voake (Candlewick)
Ginger and the kitten find their territory invaded by a freeloading faux-stray tabby. The jig is up when Ginger’s human attaches a note to the interloper’s collar asking if he has a home. Watercolor illustrations energized by a loose, doodly ink line, portray the expressive cats. 40 pages. Grade level: PS.

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku written by Lee Wardlaw, illus. by Eugene Yelchin (Holt)
In a series of haiku (technically “senryu”), a cat narrates the story of his adoption from a shelter and his new life. The animal’s fear, pride, and gradual trust come across clearly. Graphite and gouache pictures match the poems’ sensitivity and humor. 40 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Mr. Wuffles! written and illus. by David Wiesner (Clarion)
A cat disdains all the playthings he’s offered — until he spots a small spaceship. The tiny, green-skinned creatures within take refuge under a radiator, which harbors a thriving insect civilization. The cat is foiled with a heroic escape engineered by insects and green folk working together. 40 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Harry & Hopper written by Margaret Wild, illus. by Freya Blackwood (Feiwel)
When his dog Hopper dies, young Harry shuts down. After a series of ghostly middle-of-the-night visits from the dog, Harry is finally able, lovingly, to let Hopper go. The author both evokes unflinchingly and treats respectfully the emotions of a grieving child. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Elsie’s Bird written by Jane Yolen, illus. by David Small (Philomel)
Elsie, her papa, and canary Timmy Tune leave beloved Boston for the Nebraska frontier. After Timmy escapes, Elsie begins to listen to the voices of the plains. Impressionistic illustrations reinforce the emotional impact of this gentle, lyrical story. 32 pages. Grade level: K–3.

 

Younger fiction

Suggested grade level listed with each entry.

Spunky Tells All written by Ann Cameron, illus. by Lauren Castillo (Farrar/Foster)
Newly independent readers see Julian and Huey (The Stories Julian Tells; The Stories Huey Tells) from the point of view of Huey’s dog. Short, near-episodic chapters (with a bit of magical realism) give voice to Spunky’s life with humans. 106 pages. Grade level: 1–3.

A Pet Named Sneaker written by Joan Heilbroner, illus. by Pascal Lemaitre (Random/Beginner)
Pete’s pet snake Sneaker is not only good for playing games like “I Am a Necktie” and “I Am Handcuffs” but is also smart and heroic. Cartoon art in bright oranges, blues, and greens with plenty of white space has a retro feel with modern sensibilities. 48 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Ruby Lu, Star of the Show written by Lenore Look, illus. by Stef Choi (Atheneum)
In her third book, Ruby is eager to take pup Elvis to obedience school. Unfortunately, when her dad loses his job, dog school is out of the question. Leavening the seriousness of her family’s money worries is Ruby’s talent for getting into trouble. 137 pages.

Lulu and the Duck in the Park written by Hilary McKay, illus. by Priscilla Lamont (Whitman)
Bringing animals into Lulu’s class is verboten. But when she witnesses dogs destroy ducks’ nests, Lulu keeps the last egg safe, and it begins to hatch—while at school. Animal-loving Lulu’s dilemma rings true. Also see Lulu and the Dog from the Sea and Lulu and the Cat in the Bag. 93 pages. Grade level: 1–3.

Duck for a Day written by Meg McKinlay, illus. by Leila Rudge (Candlewick)
Pet-deprived Abby longs to take the class pet, a duck, home overnight. The satisfying plot includes a well-deserved visit to Abby’s house and an exciting chase after the duck escapes. Frequent illustrations enhance the humor of this heartfelt story. 90 pages. Grade level: 1–3.

Clementine, Friend of the Week written by Sara Pennypacker, illus. by Marla Frazee (Hyperion)
Third-grader Clementine is gearing up to be Friend of the Week, the class’s all-around helper. Her campaign comes to a halt when her beloved kitten, Moisturizer, goes missing. Readers will empathize with Clementine’s emotional response to her missing cat. 162 pages. Grade level: 1–3.

Mr. Putter & Tabby Dance the Dance written by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Arthur Howard (Harcourt)
Mrs. Teaberry and Zeke want to try ballroom dancing; Mr. Putter isn’t so sure. Three short chapters have the foursome tearing up the dance floor. The text flows despite uncomplicated sentence structure. Expressive illustrations bring out the characters’ delightful personalities. 40 pages. Grade level: K–3.

Lulu and the Brontosaurus written by Judith Viorst, illus. by Lane Smith (Atheneum)
Spoiled Lulu seeks a pet brontosaurus; she finds one who wants to make Lulu his pet. Fleeing the dinosaur, Lulu learns compassion and manners. Almost-pointillist illustrations depict as clearly as the text does Lulu’s bratty-turned-polite personality. Also see Lulu Walks the Dogs. 115 pages. Grade level: 1–3.

 

Intermediate fiction

Suggested grade level for all entries: 4–6.

Just a Dog by Michael Gerard Bauer (Scholastic)
Nine-year-old Corey tells all the stories he remembers about his family’s dog, Moe. The tone is somber: even the funny stories are laced with darker moments in which the parents are fighting, or Moe gets hurt or lost. 135 pages.

Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley by Stephanie Greene (Clarion)
For Sophie’s “double-digit” birthday, she wants a special pet: a baby gorilla. Things get out of hand when she announces that her parents have consented. 128 pages.

One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson (Scholastic)
Hal’s parents get him a dog for his birthday, but Fleck is only a rental, due back at the Easy Pets Dog Agency when the weekend ends. Hal, aided by kennel maid Pippa, travels across London and, eventually, cross country to find Fleck. 282 pages.

Because of Shoe and Other Dog Stories edited by Ann M. Martin, illus. by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov (Holt)
Each with his or her own style and sensibility, eight children’s authors plus Martin herself contribute dog-centered stories. Some authors illustrate their own stories, and Olga and Aleksey Ivanov illustrate the rest, catching the dogs’ inherent humor and personality. 264 pages.

Tracing Stars by Erin E. Moulton (Philomel)
When Indie’s rare golden lobster disappears, she enlists the help of oddball new kid Owen. Her desperate-to-fit-in older sister, however, does not want her to be friends with weirdos and lobsters. The girls’ relationship, realistic and poignant, adds depth to the story of Indie’s frantic search. 233 pages.

The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin (Abrams/Amulet)
Oona’s father has died, and now her cat Zook is sick. To comfort her little brother, Oona comes up with stories about Zook’s previous lives. The ending — bittersweet, inevitable, and true — offers much-needed catharsis for the family and for anyone who has ever loved a pet. 227 pages.

Sidekicks by Dan Santat (Scholastic/Levine)
With veteran superhero Captain Amazing holding auditions for a new sidekick, his pets — a dog, hamster, and chameleon — hope to win the role. They train seriously but get into trouble fighting crime. This genre-mash-up graphic novel features appealing, cartoonish art. 218 pages.

Ivy Takes Care written by Rosemary Wells, illus. by Jim LaMarche (Candlewick)
In the summer of 1949 in western Nevada, thoughtful fifth grader Ivy starts a pet care business. Ivy’s three clients and their animals broaden her world and her relationship with others in remarkable ways. The moving story brings the characters to life. 199 pages.

Julia Gillian (and the Dream of the Dog) written by Alison McGhee; illus. by Drazen Kozjan (Scholastic)
In her third book, Julia Gillian navigates middle school while sparring with her third-grade “reading buddy,” an anti-reader. Meanwhile, Julia Gillian’s dog, Bigfoot, is growing frail; a moving sketch shows the two curled together on the vet’s table, girl singing to dog about their life together. 330 pages

The Adventures of a South Pole Pig written by Chris Kurtz, illus. by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Harcourt)
Pig Flora is on a boat headed to the South Pole, where she knows she’ll find adventure. Like all good animal adventure stories, this one has a richly drawn cast. Thirty-eight fast-paced chapters make this perfect for reading aloud. 278 pages.

The Trouble with Chickens: A J.J. Tully Mystery written by Doreen Cronin, illus. by Kevin Cornell (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Former search-and-rescue dog J.J. is lured out of retirement by a chicken who promises him a cheeseburger if he’ll take on her case. Tidily embedded clues, a dandy plot twist, and a cast of hilarious characters add up to a treat. Also see The Legend of Diamond Lil: A J.J. Tully Mystery. 119 pages.

Letters to Leo written by Amy Hest, illus. by Julia Denos (Candlewick)
Fourth-grader Annie (Remembering Mrs. Rossi) is still adjusting to life after her mother’s death. She gets a dog, Leo, and writes letters to him, journal-style, much like the late Mrs. Rossi’s students wrote letters to Annie. Illustrated with doodles and lists, the letters allow her time to reflect and heal. 154 pages.

A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean (HarperCollins/Tegen)
Cally’s classroom enrolls in a hospice-benefiting “sponsored silence” — and she keeps the silence. A dog named Homeless that appears with her dead mother’s ghost help Cally say what she needs to, with or without words. This rewarding novel stands out for its evocative prose and genuine characters. 202 pages.

Maggie & Oliver, or, A Bone of One’s Own written by Valerie Hobbs, illus. by Jennifer Thermes (Holt)
Alternating chapters follow orphan Maggie, turned out onto the streets of turn-of-the-last-century Boston with only a mysterious gold locket, and homeless dog Oliver. Pluck and optimism help them both cope with cold, hunger, and loneliness. Things look up when their stories intersect. 181 pages.

Star in the Forest by Laura Resau (Delacorte)
When her illegal-immigrant father is deported back to Mexico, Zitlally withdraws. She slowly builds trust with outcast Crystal and with a pathetic chained-up dog that she names Star. This novel’s topic, unusually gritty for its intermediate audience, springs from situations that illegal immigrants face daily. 151 pages.

 

Poetry

Suggested grade level listed with each entry.

A Dazzling Display of Dogs written by Betsy Franco; illus. by Michael Wertz (Tricycle)
Concrete poems celebrate animals complete with lovable quirks and downright silliness. Stylish digital illustrations pop with color and capture the personality of each dog variety, from pug to maltipoo. 40 pages. Grade level: K–3.

The Hound Dog’s Haiku and Other Poems for Dog Lovers written by Michael J. Rosen, illus. by Mary Azarian (Candlewick)
Twenty haiku portray a range of dog breeds, from Pembroke Welsh Corgi to Samoyed to Border Collie. Accompanying the poems are meticulously detailed woodcut illustrations, printed in black and hand-colored with acrylics, which sturdily capture every dog and its setting. 56 pages. Grade level: K–3.

 

Nonfiction

Suggested grade level listed with each entry.

Dogs on Duty: Soldiers’ Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (Walker)
Military Working Dogs have done everything from aiding the wounded to sniffing out explosives and helping humans cope with posttraumatic stress disorder. Accessible text traces the history of dogs in American wars and then outlines how a puppy becomes an MWD. 48 pages. Grade level: 4–6.

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Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, assistant editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College.

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