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As I get older, and as time flies faster, I find that my happiest moments occur when my interests converge. The more I can combine the things I love, the richer life seems to be.
Of course, the variables in life often disrupt planned convergence; a thunderstorm ruins an outdoor concert on a spring night, or a mundane phone call interrupts a meaningful face-to-face conversation.
Nightly, I appreciate one example of happy convergence at our house:
Kids + Books + Dogs
Every night that we’re home, we read for at least 30 minutes (usually closer to 45 minutes). Inevitably, one of the books we read has a canine protagonist. I’m very critical of kids’ books (and ice cream, and sports-celebrity tweets, and car model names, and most all things), and I decided to evaluate a literary genre that gets a lot of run around our house.
I’ve made a list of our top ten kids’ books about dogs, and I already know what you’re thinking — for some strange reason, this guy is putting his favorites in this list and his kids probably don’t care if the books are about dogs or robots or guinea pigs building sand castles. Well, that’s true. But, I’ll tell you the secret requirement that every good young-children’s book MUST have: adults have to enjoy reading it to them. Otherwise, it’s not as much fun for reader or audience.
Our favorite children’s books about dogs
The Best Pet of All
There’s something about the illustrations in this book that I love, even if I can’t put my finger on it…something about the Californian, 1950’s style. More importantly, I never get tired of reading this one. It has some very funny parts, and the moral of the story is evident from the title.
Go Dog, Go!
If I judge this book by the typical criteria for kids’ or adult books, then it’s a dud. There is no plot, and there are no characters. However, it works as a great beginning and ending to early childhood (bookends, if you can excuse the punny metaphor). It’s simple and colorful enough to engage a baby, and the clear connection between text and images make great material for a child learning to read.
The Blue House Dog
I have read this aloud to my kids only four times total. Each time, I was sobbing uncontrollably before getting halfway through. I mean full-on weeping, unable to speak. Jackie and McLain give me confused looks, and assure me that “it’s okay Dada.” In fact, the last book that sparked this kind of emotional outburst in me was Where the Red Fern Grows. That book, and this one, reveal why dogs are so amazing.
How Rocket Learned to Read
I’m teaching Jackie to read now, and sometimes she’s really averse to instruction. This book reminds me that nothing worth doing is easy, and that anything worth learning requires practice.
This one tops the list of all-time McLain favorites. In fact, it was the first book that McLain requested on a regular basis. It’s a stretch to include it in a list of books about dogs, but one of the main characters is a Saint Bernard named Brody (my first family dog when I was a kid).
The Diggingest Dog
We all like this classic, but I put this on the list for Katie’s benefit — it’s one of her favorites, and Nana tells us that she memorized it when she was 5 or 6. If you want to overanalyze it, I think there’s a theme in the book about how dynamic (and even fickle) childhood friendships can be in group settings. No? I’m reaching? Well, we’ll just have to ask Al Perkins about that.
The plot in this one is too complex for McLain, but I read it to them every couple of months for two good reasons:
1) It teaches how important the olfactory system is to a dog, to the point that the lives of roof-confined dogs are changed when they are given uprooted plants to smell. Awesome.
2) Jackie always has lots of questions about other cultures, and this book provides talking points for the role of animals in other places, in other times.
Another McLain favorite. This one is a fun tongue-twister to read, and the idea of an imagination-crazed cat pretending to be a dog is plain funny. Add Skippyjon to the list of McLain monikers (along with LOB, John C. McGinley, and Budbud).
This one is a nostalgic pick for me. The edition we have was a gift from my Grandmother Jones, with an inscription from her, dated 1982. It’s really just a picture book of puppies, and it almost seems that it was created with the sole purpose of making people see pictures of cute puppies so they will want a puppy of their own. Another interesting fact about this and other animal books from this publisher — there are at least 4 different covers.