My favourite dog book as a child was Shadow The Sheep Dog by Enid Blyton.

Shadow The Sheep Dog Enid Blyton Cover

// Wonderful Poodle 1949

I have not actually read the above book but it looks great.

the dog's ear book

So does this one.

the dog next door

Easy Does It: The Tale Of Excitable Sam by Margaret Hopkins and Illustrated by Bruce McNally

Easy Does It The Story Of Excitable Sam Cover

Like the Footrot Flats comic strips, created by New Zealander Murray Ball, I’m pretty sure owners of Border collies would get significantly more out of this book than non-owners of Border collies, because there are a few traits peculiar to the breed, and one of them is the tendency to round up animals they’re not supposed to round up. As the owner of both a Border collie and a bunch of chickens, I related well to this story about a dog who needs to be trained not to round up animals other than cows.

HARRY BY THE SEA BY GENE ZION ILLUSTRATED BY MARGARET BLOY GRAHAM (1965)

Like the cover, the illustrations within continue in the same limited palette of greens and oranges, which for some reason takes me right back to 1965 (when I was a carrot’s great-great-great grandfather, or something.)

The art of beach-going hasn’t changed much since 1965. People still sit under umbrellas and buy icecreams and children build sandcastles. Yet the culture has moved on since then and we no longer read things like, ‘When [the dog] walked in the shade that a fat lady made she became angry and made him stop following her,’ because it’s no longer okay to make such overt reference to people who are fat, especially if they’re fat AND unpleasant. We also have authors being slightly more careful about gender stereotyping such as,

‘Suddenly a lady saw [the dog monster’ floating towards her. “Help! Help!” she shrieked. “It’s a sea monster!” The lifeguard heard her and blew his whistle.’

Apart from that, this story is equally likely to appeal to a modern audience, with a dog emerging from the water covered in seaweed, scaring all and sundry. The dog is then unable to find his family, because all of the beach-goers look exactly the same under their identical umbrellas, each smelling of sun-tan oil (okay, that’s been replaced with sunscreen, at least here in Australia.)

I was put in mind of a time when my family stayed in a one of a block of identical flats. I would’ve been younger than five when I was allowed outside to play on the communal playground, and after my parents had shut the door I no longer knew which of the identical doors they were behind. I remember the panic as I ran from door to door banging on each one, probably waking everyone up. I wonder if every child has an incident like that. The experience of grabbing onto your mother’s hand only to look up and find it’s not your mother is a fairly common one.

Likewise, young readers will no doubt identify with a dog who can’t find his family. In the end he finds them, of course, and his family buys a white beach umbrella with spots on. In this satisfying conclusion, the umbrella now matches the dog, in a renewed appreciation for their pet.

HARRY THE DIRTY DOG BY GENE ZION ILLUSTARTED BY MARGARET BLOY GRAHAM

This is another from the same team above. In 2013 it’s one of my daughter’s favourites. Harry has just the right mixture of adorableness and mischievousness. My daughter doesn’t know who put the scrubbing brush under Harry’s bed (on the last page) but I’m sure she’ll work it out in time.

THE UGLIEST DOG IN THE WORLD WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY BRUCE WHATLEY

 

I agree. These dogs are ugly. You know they ones — they’ve been bred so that their tongues are permanently out. I’m a fan of mongrels, and no fan at all of canine eugenics, believing mongrels to be healthier, so the reaction I have whenever I see these dogs is not so much humour, but a touch of sadness and quite a bit of irritation.

The characters in this book, though, have a range of reactions to our main character’s ugly — mainly humorous, some dismissive. On each page we see a new illustration of the dog, each time dressed up in some sort of costume. My favourite is the one where the dog is surprised, though my four-year-old daughter’s favourite is where the dog has cow horns on: a perfect example of what makes little kids laugh — things where they should not be. She had no reaction, however, to the dog wearing a bonnet and so forth. Of course dogs wear bonnets. Why wouldn’t they?

In this house we don’t draw a distinction between ‘ugly’ and ‘beautiful’. I make a point of it. Girls in particular have more than enough time to learn from the World that there is such a thing as ugly and beautiful, and I think Hannah may have even learnt the word ‘ugly’ after reading this very book, if not the entire concept.

I don’t have a problem with drawing a distinction between ugly dogs and pretty dogs, but one page did grate:

The lady next door actually thinks [my dog’s] pretty. But you haven’t seen the lady next door!

I really like the illustrations of Bruce Whatley. I like them most of all when he teams up with Jackie French. Together they make the best books.

THAT MAGNETIC DOG BY BRUCE WHATLEY

This is another dog book in the same style — highly detailed renderings of a pet dog on a background of white. The dog in this book has wonderful facial expressions which nonetheless remain dog-like, without the illustrator resorting to adding in eyebrows or suchlike.

This one’s about a dog who seems to attract food like a magnet. This is taken literally, with icecreams flying out of babies’ prams and pizzas flying toward him. To clarify the metaphor for the youngest of readers, the meaning of magnetism in its true sense is explained on the first page.

A wonderful book about a dog, which will especially appeal to readers who own dogs with huge, voracious appetites.

FERGUS AND MARIGOLD BY TONY MADDOX (1997)

Fans of Garfield and Odie may well love this reversal, about a dog (Fergus) who gets the grumps after a kitten comes to stay. The kitten gets up to all sorts of mischief. All ends (temporarily, at least) after the dog gets wrapped up in a ghostlike sheet off the washing line, which sends the kitten up a tall tree.

There are other books about Fergus, for readers who prefer familiarity.

ALBERT AND SARAH JANE BY MALACHY DOYLE ILLUSTRATED BY JO PARRY (2007)

Albert and Sarah Jane Cover

The five year old brought this one home from preschool. I can see why she was attracted to it: the pastel colours of the artwork have a feminine sensibility (insofar as girls are acculturated into liking pastel colours, for marketing purposes).

With my feminist hat on, this is a somewhat troubling story to me. A male dog and a female cat live together side by side. Worth pointing out: the gender of these two animals is reinforced throughout the story, with a red foodbowl for Sarah Jane, a red collar for Sarah-Jane, a blue bowl for Albert, the large dog compared to the petite cat, who we see grooming herself delicately on the first page.

Plot: Albert is in the habit of eating Sarah Jane’s food. This presumably continues for a long time at low levels of deprivation until one day he scoffs the lot. Sarah Jane is angry about this and goes to live next door.

She’ll be back, he thought.

She always comes back.

This is the sentiment which made me think of these animals as a metaphor for longterm marital disharmony. Once that metaphor had been established, I failed to enjoy the rest of the story, because the two animals miss the physical intimacy of their dysfunctional marriage:

“But I’m sad and lonely,” said Albert. “I want a great big cat dog cuddle by the fire.” [Subtext reading: “I miss the sex.”]

And, like many women with asshole husbands who take more than their fair share of the wealth/food/whatever in a relationship, the cat goes back to the asshole dog and on the final page we see them having make-up sex in front of the fire. Well, apparently it’s called ‘a cat dog cuddle’ but y’know.

In short, the message of this story is that men can change, and if he promises to do better in future, you should always go back to the hearth and give him good sex, because that’s what men need.

Goodnight, sweet daughters. All is well in feminist picturebook land.

IMG_1880

Footnote: There are ‘Notes for Parents and Teachers’ in the back of this book.

Ask the children if they think Sarah Jane was right to go and live next door? [sic for the question mark]

and

Do the children think Albert had changed by the end of the story? If so, why did he change?

Note that the second sentence of that question implies that the answer is yes, Albert has changed. Adult guidance is crucial when answering this one. To a naiive reader, Albert’s promise is gospel. But the adult reader will know that from the sentence ‘She always comes back’, he has a history of not changing, offering nothing but platitudes. A sophisticated reader of this book learns that, ‘Platitudes and apologies mean nothing; previous behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour’. But the naive reader, used to character arcs in fiction, will certainly need guidance.

HERBERT THE BRAVE SEA DOG: A TRUE NEW ZEALAND STORY BY ROBYN BELTON (2008)

 

At the back of this picturebook you’ll find newspaper clippings and other related ephemera which are proof of this event which was just waiting to be turned into a picturebook one day. (If you look closely enough you’ll see that it happened in 1986.) And here it is! This story happened took place where I grew up, on the beaches of Nelson, so the sense of place is very strong — and will be quite strong for many New Zealanders, I expect — there is a map of the area at the front. Any dog lover will appreciate the sense of joy experienced by the boy after his beloved pet swam home after falling overboard.

The style of illustration is sketchy, almost like ‘roughs’, unlike a lot of highly polished stuff we see now which has been done digitally. This reminds me of the sorts of books we were reading back in 1986, and looks genuinely retro rather than artificially so.

Related:

See a review of Dogs Rule! at Teach With Picturebooks blog.

You’ll find that in picturebooks, animals have somewhat human facial features. Eyebrows are particularly important for giving human expressions to animals. Here is an actual dog which (I suppose) has been bred to look like it has a human face. NOT sure how I feel about this.

Book Reviews: Dog Lover’s Delight from Reading Today Online

A LibraryThing list of books with talking dogs in.