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National Puppy Day reading

puppy with bookYesterday was National Puppy Day! To celebrate, here are some of our favorite dog books from recent years (don’t worry; I’m pretty sure the dog doesn’t die in any of them!), all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine. Now, who wants to lend me a puppy to snuggle while I read?

Picture books

adderson_norman, speakA boy is puzzled when the dog his family adopts doesn’t respond to even the simplest commands in Caroline Adderson’s Norman, Speak! It turns out that Norman is neither untrained nor stupid; he “speaks” Chinese! So off the family heads to Chinese-language school. There are lessons here — about patience and intercultural understanding — but they’re very lightly worn; the casual line of Qin Leng’s ink-and-color illustrations reinforces the story’s warmth. (Groundwood, 2014)

alfie is not afraid_300In Alfie Is Not Afraid by Patricia Carlin, dog Alfie’s young owner claims Alfie 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 pup 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. (Hyperion, 2012)

little dog lost: the true story of a brave dog namd balticOne cold day in Poland, onlookers along the banks of the Vistula River see a little dog adrift on a sheet of ice, heading for open sea. Finally, seventy-five miles from journey’s start, he’s rescued. Simple yet dramatic watercolors effectively convey the wintry setting and Dog’s emotions in Mônica Carnesi’s Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic, an edge-of-your-seat adventure story with text that also works beautifully as a beginning reader. (Penguin/Paulsen, 2012)

dipucchio_gaston_170x213In Kelly DiPucchio’s Gaston, bumptious Gaston looms over his elegant poodle sisters. At the park, they meet a family like theirs but in reverse: bulldogs Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno and their petite sister Antoinette. Were Gaston and Antoinette switched at birth? Should they trade families? DiPucchio’s lively text was made to be read aloud. Christian Robinson’s elegant illustrations feature dogs with minimal yet wonderfully expressive facial details. (Atheneum, 2014)

Boot and ShoeDogs Boot and Shoe share a lot of things, but Boot prefers the back porch and Shoe, the front. 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 Boot & Shoe, a nimble tale of misplaced assumptions. (Simon/Beach Lane, 2012)

hawkes_remy and luluIn Remy and Lulu, Lulu is a clever little Parisian dog. Remy is an itinerant painter. Once the two join forces, Lulu’s meticulous vignettes of Remy’s sitters’ pets, which she surreptitiously adds to Remy’s paintings, delight his subjects — though not Remy. Lulu’s canny taking-charge is amusing. Meanwhile, the three contrasting painting styles — Lulu’s classic elegance (thanks to miniaturist Hannah E. Harrison), Remy’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century modernism, and author/illustrator Kevin Hawkes’s own lively and painterly milieu — are inviting. (Knopf, 2014)

charley's first night_300Young Henry agrees to his new puppy Charley sleeping in the kitchen “forever” in Charley’s First Night by Amy Hest. His parents are “pretty clear” about this, though 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 Helen Oxenbury’s art. An unsentimental, yet adorable, recasting of an ever-reliable theme. Also look for sequel When Charley Met Grandpa. (Candlewick, 2012)

mcghee_case of the missing donutIn 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. Author Alison McGhee’s snappy text for The Case of the Missing Donut plays it straight, while Isabel Roxas’s illustrations, drawn with graphite and colored digitally, hold the evidence that allows the reader in on the joke. (Dial, 2013)

rudge_perfect place for tedPet-store dog Ted sets off to find “somewhere perfect.” He tries a circus, a pet pageant, and being a guard dog, but is passed over every time. In a funny twist, the perfect place for Ted turns out to be a “puuuurrrrrfect” place. Leila Rudge’s soft illustrations for A Perfect Place for Ted, done in pencil, ink, and collage, feature many patterns and amusing details. (Candlewick, 2014)

samuels_fred's bedBeagle Fred has many kinds of beds: Shopping-Bag Bed (with party hats and noisemakers inside), Pile-of-Old-Newspapers Bed (Fred lies in the kitchen catching dripping cake batter), etc. Sharp-eyed kids will spot the clues to what’s happening next. Author/illustrator Barbara Samuels’s art in Fred’s Beds features bright colors and crisp patterns set against white backgrounds, so children can easily find the details that make the book so much fun. (Farrar, 2014)

stein_i'm my own dog“I’m my own dog. Nobody owns me. I own myself,” says the independent canine narrator of David Ezra Stein’s I’m My Own Dog. But one day, when his legs prove too short, he lets someone scratch his itchy back. Soon the dog is taking his “good boy” on walks, teaching him about chasing squirrels, etc. Stein’s gestural watercolors are the perfect foil for the droll text. (Candlewick, 2014)

find a cow now_300Zipping around the apartment, trying to round things up, urban cattle dog Dog longs for the life he was made for in Find a Cow Now! by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel. But once on the farm, clueless Dog tries to round up a chicken, a pig, and a donkey; 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. Holiday 2012


Primary fiction

mckay_lulu and teh dog from the seaIn Hilary McKay’s Lulu and the Dog from the Sea, the second appearance of Lulu and her cousin Mellie (Lulu and the Duck in the Park) allows readers more insight into the girls and their friendship when they go on holiday with Lulu’s family to a seaside cottage. Along with the novel’s abundance of dialogue, Priscilla Lamont’s pen-and-ink illustrations show setting, characterization, and important action scenes, giving plenty of help for beginning chapter book readers. (Whitman, 2013)

viorst_lulu walks the dogsSelf-absorbed Lulu’s (Lulu and the Brontosaurus) arguing skills have matured to wheedling in Lulu Walks the Dogs by Judith Viorst. Still, Mom and Dad won’t pay for something (that’s not divulged until book’s end), so Lulu earns money by dog-walking. This extended comic fable is rife with authorial intrusion and funny asides. Lane Smith’s pencil illustrations are in fine form, especially the caricatures of canines and their resembling owners. (Atheneum, 2012)


Intermediate fiction

hest_letters to leoFourth-grader Annie, (Remembering Mrs. Rossi), is still adjusting to life after her mother’s death in Amy Hest’s Letters to Leo. 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 by Julia Denos with doodles and lists, the letters allow her time to reflect and heal. Readers will enjoy watching Annie grow as a friend and a daughter. (Candlewick, 2012)

ibbotson_one dog and his boyIn One Dog and His Boy, 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. A brisk chase across London and, eventually, cross country ensues as Hal, aided by kennel maid Pippa, finds Fleck and determines to take him to his grandparents. This (sadly) last of the late author Eva Ibbotson’s novels features a journey with welcome echoes of Dodie Smith. (Scholastic, 2012)

DashAfter Pearl Harbor, Mitsi Kashino’s family has to go live in a “camp.” Worse, her beloved dog, Dash, isn’t allowed to accompany them. Luckily, elderly neighbor Mrs. Bowker takes Dash in. When amusing letters “from Dash” start arriving at camp, they help Mitsi make friends and spread happiness. A companion to Duke, Kirby Larson’s 2015 Scott O’Dell Award–winning novel Dash is another diverting wartime dog story. (Scholastic, 2014)

lean_dog called homelessCally’s fifth grade classroom enrolls in a hospice-benefiting “sponsored silence” — and she keeps the silence. New neighbor Sam, blind and mostly deaf, and a dog named Homeless that appears with her dead mother’s ghost help Cally say what she needs to, with or without words. Sarah Lean’s rewarding first novel A Dog Called Homeless stands out for its clean, evocative prose and genuine characters. (HarperCollins/Tegen, 2012)

martin_reign rainIn Ann M. Martin’s Rain Reign, autistic eleven-year-old Rose lives with her single dad, who doesn’t have the resources, material or emotional, to be a parent. Luckily her uncle Weldon has her back; she’s soothed by her ongoing collection of homonyms; and she has Rain, her dog — until Hurricane Susan, during which Rain disappears. This could be a tear-jerker. It isn’t. Rose is a resilient, honest, and perceptive narrator. (Feiwel, 2014)



montalvan_tuesday tucks me inThe narrator of Luis Carlos Montalván and Bret Witter’s sometimes funny, sometimes hard-hitting picture book Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond Between a Soldier and His Service Dog is Tuesday, a golden retriever service dog. Tuesday describes how he helps take care of disabled veteran Luis. Through engaging color photographs (by Dan Dion) and a clear, compelling text, this book for primary students portrays the difficulties of a vet suffering from PTSD; readers also learn fascinating facts about service dogs. An appended author’s note explains more about Luis’s condition and Tuesday’s training. (Roaring Brook, 2014)

dogs on dutyMilitary Working Dogs have done everything from aiding the wounded during WWI to sniffing out explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan and helping humans cope with posttraumatic stress disorder. Dorothy Hinshaw Patent’s Dogs on Duty: Soldiers’ Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond, an accessible book for intermediate readers, traces the history of dogs in American wars and then outlines how a puppy becomes an MWD. “Hero Hounds” sidebars tell of individual heroic dogs. (Walker, 2012)


For even more dog books, check out Notes from the Horn Book newsletter piece “Picks of the litter.” If you’re more of a cat person, see Out of the Box posts “Kitten envy” and “Purrfect reads.” Not pet-picky? We’ve got a long list of recommended books on pets of all types (up to and including rhinoceroses and brontosauruses) here.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.



  1. Brenda R. says:

    I would recommend George Knows by Mindy Mymudes.

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