Many books start something like this:
image above from Scrumpy, by Elizabeth Dale and Frederic Joos
11-year-old Marley Dias, a black girl from New Jersey recently made headlines for saying that she is sick of reading about white boys and dogs.
I have seen quite a bit of backlash about that comment.
Apparently, some people (almost always white), think that because there exist some number of books about black kids, black kids shouldn’t be complaining about the ratio, and just go read those instead. Which completely misses the point.
The fact is, children’s literature IS chock full of stories about white boys and their dogs. You really have to look quite hard to find anything different, in fact. Marley Dias is right.
CLASSIC BOOKS ABOUT BOYS AND THEIR DOGS
In the West, the story of the middle class white boy and his best-friend, loyal dog are very common. There is a long tradition of books about boys and their dogs.
The duo seems even more so if you consider the most popular of the bunch, which can be measured in terms of screen adaptations. (Only the most popular books get adapted for screen.) Here are the family dog offerings on Australian Netflix at the moment, and I think I snapped all of them:
We do have an ensemble cast in Spy Kids, in which the dog is one of the gang:
Hotel for Dogs is about a 16-year-old girl, though the story requires a younger brother.
MALE ANIMALS AND THEIR DOGS
This isn’t a white boy with his dog, as such… but it looks damn creepy to me:
When the boy isn’t a human, he is usually a boy, and the general rule applies to picture books as much as it applies to novels:
BOYS WHO WANT DOGS
A fairly common desire line: Boy wants dog. Boy works hard to get dog. Some of these stories are feminist, actually, in the same way that the Pixar movie Up is feminist, even while killing off the only female character right at the beginning of the story: A boy is allowed to show his nurturing side even in times when caring was a distinctively female attribute.
The boy-dog relationship is so familiar that ‘The Puppy Who Wanted A Dog’ is an instantly recognisable inversion of the trope.
Stephen King took the boy and his loving dog story and turned it into a horror story, which works so well precisely because it takes the original children’s literature trope and changes the genre completely.
NON-ENGLISH SPEAKING BOYS AND THEIR DOGS
This duo is not limited to the West, either.
CHILDREN OF COLOUR AND THEIR DOGS
What if you want to see a black kid’s relationship with his dog? Well, there’s always Sounder.