It's the "dog days" of summer, so named originally because the "dog star", Sirius, rose around sunrise at this time of year. It's also the last month of summer, and we are inundated with advertising reminding us that school will be starting again soon, for those on a traditional school calendar. If your children have put off doing assigned "summer reading", why not jump-start them by reading the first part of the book aloud together? If you haven't already started reading aloud regularly, this time of getting ready for the change in family routine to accommodate school schedules is a good time to establish a new routine. Most American children aren't getting to bed early enough to get as much sleep as they need. Use an evening reading time to get them to unwind and settle down for an earlier bedtime.
Dog Stories for Preschoolers:
Where's Spot? , by Hill - for really young children (under three), this is a simple, cute story with heavier-weight pages and a little flap to lift on each page as Spot's mother goes looking for him.
Good Dog, Carl, by Day - a funny, mostly-wordless picture book about what happens when the dog is left to tend the baby. Age two and up.
A Boy, a Dog and a Frog, by Mayer - a wordless picture book with really detailed drawings. A boy and his dog set out one day to try to catch a frog, but have a series of cartoon-style misses and finally give up and go home - but in the end, the frog follows their wet footprints and jumps into the bathtub with them. Age three and up.
The Dog Prince, by Mills, illustrated by Nolan - a spoiled, selfish prince offends an old woman, who turns him into a hound, and a hound he stays as he learns some manners from a goat girl and eventually defends her goats in a completely unselfish heroic act. Lovely, traditional watercolor pictures complement the traditional, fairy-tale tone of the story. Age four and up.
No Roses for Harry, by Zion - another story about Harry the Dirty Dog, this time about an unwanted gift - a doggie "sweater" with roses on it, which Harry is embarrassed to wear in public. Age three and up.
Dog stories for elementary to middle school listeners:
Lots of classics:
Lassie Come-Home, by Knight - the original story of the beautiful collie who escapes from her aristocrat owner to return to the poor family she loves. There is also a beautifully illustrated, abridged edition, abridged by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers. The original version is probably for second or third grade or above listeners, the abridged version for first grade or higher. This is the rare dog story with a happy ending.
Old Yeller, by Gipson - combination pioneer story and dog story; told in first person by Travis, a teenage boy who is trying to be the man of his pioneer family on the Texas frontier while his father is away temporarily and a stray "no-account" yellow dog shows up. One of those books that will make you laugh in some places and cry in others. It has a sequel, Savage Sam, which has fallen out of favor, I suppose because the plot turns on a portrayal of the Indians as savage kidnappers. Third or fourth grade and up.
Big Red, by Kjelgaard - starring an Irish setter (a valuable show dog belonging to a wealthy neighbor) and the teenage boy Danny, this is another story about the loyalty of a good dog to his master. Kjelgaard wrote many other dog stories, including some sequels to this one (Irish Red and Outlaw Red) and one about a greyhound called Desert Dog. Third or fourth grade up.
Other dog classics: Beautiful Joe, by Saunders (an early novel about the abuse of dogs), The Incredible Journey by Burnford (a lab, a bull terrier, and a cat travel across Canada to find their humans), Where the Red Fern Grows, by Rawls (a boy and a pair of coonhounds in the Ozarks), Bristleface, by Ball (see my July post), The Call of the Wild and White Fang, by London (sled dogs in Alaska), Lad: A Dog, and sequels, by Terhune (collies), and Finn the Wolfhound by Dawson (Irish Wolfhound, first in England and then in the wilds of Australia). Finn the Wolfhound is a bit longer and probably best for fifth grade or above listeners.
Ajax, Golden Dog of the Australian Bush, by Patchett - old enough to be a classic, but not as well-known as the others, perhaps partly because it is by an Australian author. This is a book about a GIRL and her loyal dog, and their adventures in the Australian bush. It also has a happy ending. I loved this book when I was in upper elementary school, and I recently bought a hard-back copy off Ebay. For third or fourth grade and up.
Stone Fox, by Gardiner - this is a fairly short book, but the end packs a real punch. Willie decides he must train his dog, Searchlight, to win the annual sled dog race so that he can use the prize money to save his grandfather's Wyoming potato farm. However, he will be competing against the native American Stone Fox whose team of Samoyeds has never lost. Guaranteed tear-jerker, to read to third graders or above.
My Life in Dog Years, by Paulsen - autobiographical stories about eight different dogs from Gary Paulsen's life. Also by Paulsen: Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, and Dogsong, and several other books featuring dogs.
No More Dead Dogs, by Korman - only peripherally a dog story, this recent, funny contemporary book is about a middle-school boy in trouble because he doesn't want anything to do with reading another book where the dog dies in the end - yet he ends up reluctantly involved with staging a play based on that book, and, from the teacher's point of view, creating mayhem along the way. Korman's humor makes his books popular with kids - read aloud to fourth or fifth grade and up.
Because of Winn-Dixie, by Dicamillo - I haven't seen the movie, but the book is sweet and funny. Opal is the only child of a preacher (her mother is long gone), and lonely because they just moved to a new town, when she spontaneously claims a big, hairy dog who is bouncing through the local grocery story. Third grade and up.
For older readers -
Dogsbody, by Jones - a fantasy and dog story with a sense of humor. Sirius, a kind of seemingly immortal being, is unjustly accused and punished by being turned into a puppy on Earth. To regain his proper form, he must perform a nearly impossible task within the limitations of his dog body. For sixth grade or above listeners.
Bandit: The Heart-Warming True Story of One Dog's Rescue from Death Row, by Hearne (This may be a re-issue or revision of the book titled Bandit: The Dossier of a Dangerous Dog) - Vicki Hearne, a dog and horse trainer and university philosophy professor, is at her best when she is telling stories about the animals she has trained. Some of her ideas are too complex for younger readers, but a bright teen who is interested in animals will really enjoy this one. If so, next try Hearne's book Animal Happiness. Probably for eighth grade or above.
All Creatures Great and Small, by Herriot - autobiographical, stories of starting his career as a vet in rural England, this book is not specifically about dogs, but all sorts of animals. It is full of self-deprecating humor and real incidents from his experiences. There are also sequels. Fifth or sixth grade and up.
Deerskin, by McKinley - the darkest of Robin McKinley's fairy tale novelizations, the main character in this book is a princess whose father decides to marry her - so early in the book is an incident of sexual abuse of a teenage girl. It is not detailed or particularly graphic, but you should read it yourself and decide whether it is something you would want to share with your teenager. Once you get past that, the rest of the book is about how the girl and her dog (and eventually, a whole pack of dogs, since she becomes a kennel worker in the realm of a neighboring kingdom) heal physically and emotionally. Although it is grim in the first third of the story, I find it ultimately uplifting, an affirmation of how the human spirit can rise above horror with love.