10 of the best dogs in children's books

Published on: 31 July 2019 Author: Carlie Sorosiak

Carlie Sorosiak has just written a book from the perspective of a dog - so we asked her to pick some of her other favourite pooches in children's stories.

Carlie Sorosiak and the cover of I, Cosmo

As a kid, if someone told me, 'There is a dog in this book', I'd read it absolutely without question. In fact, that is still true: dogs have always been my favourite characters – the soft-hearted, the slobbery, and the sage.

My debut children's novel, I, Cosmo, is narrated from the perspective of a golden retriever who is desperately trying to keep his human family together when everything around them is falling apart.

Cosmo was inspired by all the dogs I've loved, plus all the canine characters who've shaped my impressions of the world: namely, that family and loyalty should be cherished, and that the world should contain more snacks.

Dogs for younger readers

Harry the Dirty Dog

Harry the Dirty Dog, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham

Moe the Dog in Tropical Paradise by Diane Stanley, illustrated by Elise Primavera, was a gift from my great-great grandmother; I return to it often. My copy is thoroughly dog-eared (if you'll pardon the pun), but I still revere Moe and Arlene - they're incredibly generous, clever characters who build a tropical paradise in the middle of winter. It's perfectly uplifting, and best read with a cup of hot chocolate.

Another timeless story is Gene Zion's Harry the Dirty Dog, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham, which has retained all its charm since 1956. I'll admit that as a child I was slightly horrified when Harry ran away from home, but it's so easy to cheer for him as he unburies his brush and plunges into the bath.

Younger bookworms will also enjoy Peggy Rathmann's 1995 hit Officer Buckle and Gloria, a bright, colorful story about an acrobatic police dog. Lessons in safety and friendship abound, but the star here is Gloria; her enthusiasm is contagious.

Dogs for older readers

The front cover of The Incredible Journey

The Incredible Journey, cover illustration by George Heaven

If you're in the mood for a gripping adventure, look no further than Sheila Burnford's The Incredible Journey, originally published in 1960. In turns tense and hilarious, this novel served as the inspiration for the Walt Disney film Homeward Bound. New readers will fall in love with these fearless dogs (and one bold cat) as they travel through the Canadian wilderness, and a genuinely moving ending feels so satisfying after miles upon miles of peril.

Ali Standish's forthcoming third novel Bad Bella similarly gratifies this craving for adventure, with an incredibly loveable protagonist inspired by the author's real-life rescue dog. Bella finds herself abandoned at the pound just before Christmas, and she desperately wants a true home. It's a story full of optimism with echoes of Kate DiCamillo. Through the canine hijinks and heartwarming moments, readers will find themselves speeding through the pages, cheering for Bella the whole way.

The front cover of Bad Bella

Bad Bella, illustrated by Melissa Manwill

While I wouldn't classify Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone as a 'dog book', I would also be remiss if I didn't mention Fang - and, frankly, all the overlooked superstar dogs of children's books. Is it too much to wish, somewhere down the line, that Fang will tell his own tale? Because surely he is braver than J. K. Rowling has portrayed him (or possibly not!)

Giant in size but soft-hearted in nature, he rises to the top of Harry Potter's pantheon of animals; when worst comes to worst, he's a fierce protector for the humans that he loves.

You can say the same for Daisy in R .J. Palacio's Wonder, published to international acclaim in 2012. Daisy is Auggie's rock, his safe place; she represents comfort in his tumultuous world. Those who haven't yet discovered Wonder will find so much to love about the Pullman family and their yellow lab mix. What more could you possibly want from a dog than loyalty and infinite kindness?

The front cover of See You in the Cosmos

See You in the Cosmos, cover by Heads of State

The ingeniously named Carl Sagan from Jack Cheng's 2017 debut See You in the Cosmos is another faithful companion. Readers will delight in this book about a space-loving boy on a journey with his dog from Colorado to New Mexico, then Las Vegas to L.A. It's beautifully written, with a big, beating heart and voice for days.

Of course, this list wouldn't be complete without the enchanting Winn-Dixie, dog-smiler extraordinaire. Every Kate DiCamillo book brims with warmth and personality, but Because of Winn-Dixie holds a special place in her canon. DiCamillo's first published novel, this story introduced the world not only to her voice, but also to an unforgettable scruffy mutt who brought an entire town together. A heartfelt read that's kind, wise, and a little wild - just like the best dogs.

The front cover of Because of Winn Dixie

Because of Winn-Dixie, cover illustration by EB Lewis

Last up is Sara Pennypacker's gorgeous 2016 novel Pax , a book that I completely adore, not least for its stunning black-and-white illustrations by Jon Klassen. Just looking at the cover, my eyes are already welling up; I can't remember crying so much over any first chapter ever.

While Pax is technically a fox, he is faithful and loving with his boy, Peter, as only a canine companion can be. The writing is breathtaking, designed for introspection - the type of words that beg to be re-read, and then re-read again. A powerful book about the illustriousness of canine-human friendship.

More books about dogs

Topics: Features

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