Dog stories was the January theme for Mixed Bag: Story Time for Grown-Ups, the read-aloud program I do on Wednesdays at lunch-time every other week. (I promised to read cat stories later this year in rebuttal.) Most of the stories I chose to read in January were selected from the book The Best Dog Stories. Since I included a list of 25 favorite films about dogs in my last blog post, this post features a list of favorite books about dogs.
As with the list of films, this list of dog books is not intended to be exhaustive, just some of the more popular and well-known stories about dogs, listed in chronological order by publication date. Whenever a book on the list was adapted into a film, I noted it and linked it to the Library's catalog, if possible. Eleven of the titles on the dog film list were based on books, plus the recent biography of Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean. I did not include those titles on this list. Please let me know which is your favorite dog story or if I left your favorite one off the list (sorry!)
- Beautiful Joe: An Autobiography of a Dogg (1893). First on the list is my personal childhood favorite by Margaret Marshall Saunders. The story is based on a real dog in Ontario, Canada, an Airedale terrier who was abused but eventually rescued in 1890. The dog tells his own story, similar in style to Black Beauty, written by Anna Sewell in 1877. The full text of Beautiful Joe is available online to read or to download free from Project Gutenberg.
- Lad, A Dog (1919). Near the top of the list is one of the most famous writers of dog stories, Albert Payson Terhune, an author and journalist who bred collies on his estate in New Jersey. This is his most famous work, based on his collie Lad. The book was a best seller that has been reprinted 80 times and was adapted into a film of the same name in 1962.
- Big Red: The Story of a Champion Irish Setter and a Trapper's Son Who Grew Up Together, Roaming the Wilderness (1945). Jim Kjelgaard was an American author of young adult novels known for his stories of dogs and animals, and this is his most famous book. It was made into a Disney film in 1962.
- Where The Red Fern Grows: The Story of Two Dogs and a Boy (1961). This is a children's book by Wilson Rawls about a boy who buys and trains two Redbone Coonhounds in the Ozarks. It was made into a popular film of the same name in 1974.
- Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962). In 1960, John Steinbeck took a road trip with his French standard poodle Charley and wrote this travelogue about the trip — an old man with his ageing dog as his companion, driving cross country together, seeing the whole country one last time, and trying to make sense of it.
- The Plague Dogs (1977). Richard Adams, most well-known for his heroic fantasy Watership Down (1972), which features rabbits, subsequently wrote this adventure story about two dogs, a mongrel named Rowf and a fox terrier named Snitter, who escape from a British animal testing facility and become the targets of a nationwide doghunt. It was made into an animated film of the same name in 1982.
- A Dog's Life (1995). Peter Mayle is most famous for his series of autobiographical novels, beginning with A Year in Provence. A Dog's Life tells the story of the dog named Boy that Mayle adopted while living there, told from Boy's point of view. Boy is a witty and urbane narrator who comments freely on the foibles of "management" (his owners). The black and white whimsical illustrations are by Edward Koren. (Note: There is an unrelated silent film of the same name from 1918, starring Charlie Chaplin and a mongrel named Scraps.)
- Roverandom (1998). J.R.R. Tolkien told this story to his son in 1925, but it was not published until 1998. A young dog named Rover annoys a wizard who turns him into a toy. Rover travels the world over, to the moon and under the sea, to find the wizard and ask to be turned back into a normal dog again. The full text is available online.
- Timbuktu (1999). Award-winning American author Paul Auster wrote this story about a dog named Mr. Bones whose master, a homeless man named Willy G. Christmas, is dying. Christmas refers to heaven as Timbuktu, and Mr. Bones is worried that dogs don't go to Timbuktu and that he may never see his master again.
- Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Kate DeCamillo (who also wrote The Tale of Despereaux) won a Newbery Honor in 2001 for this children's book about a 10 year-old girl named India Opal Buloni who lives in a trailer park in Florida. She finds a dog in the supermarket and claims he is hers in order to save him from going to the pound. The book was adapted into a film of the same name by Twentieth Century Fox in 2005.
- For the Love of a Dog: A Memoir (2001). Elisabeth Rose wrote this biography of her beloved border collie Kierney. During the course of the book, she describes the unusual communion that humans have with their animal companions. At age 12, Rose can't believe it when the priest tells her animals don't go to heaven because they don't have souls. Living with, listening to, and loving her pets leads her to believe otherwise.
- A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me (2002). Jon Katz is an American journalist and author who has written several books about dogs and training dogs. This is the story of Devon, the troubled border collie he adopts shortly after his two yellow Labrador retrievers die. Working with Devon helps Katz refocus his life and work through a mid-life crisis. The book was made into a film starring Jeff Bridges in 2008.
- The Darkest Evening of the Year (2007). Dean Koontz is a prolific novelist whose suspense novels and thrillers include elements of horror, mystery, and science fiction. In this mystery, the protagonist, Amy Redwing, has founded an organization called Golden Heart that rescues abandoned golden retrievers and finds homes for them. Amy has developed a special bond with her newest dog Nickie. However, after Nickie's rescue, Amy begins to experience a chain of supernatural events, and thereby hangs a tale. Koontz is a dog lover who has written several books "with" his golden retriever Trixie: A Big Little Life, Christmas is Good, Bliss to You, and Life is Good: Lessons in Joyful Living. He is also an avid supporter of Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organization that trains and provides assistance dogs.
- Christmas Dogs: A Literary Companion (2005). This anthology of short stories about dogs and their owners at Christmas time includes works from James Herriot, Willie Morris, Jon Katz, and Susan Orlean.
- Dog Spelled Backwards: Soulful Writing by Literary Dog Lovers (2007). Author Mordecai Siegal presents a collection of writings about the divine nature of dogs from American and English literature, including selections from fiction, nonfiction, prose, and poetry.
Some dog books and stories are out of print but available online. The story I read on January 25, 2012, by Terhune was "The Coward," written in 1922, about a six-month old collie puppy named Laund who shows a natural talent for herding sheep. He is so good his owner wants to enter him in the annual field trials competition held by the National Collie Association. Then Laund is savagely attacked and wounded by a hawk and apparently loses his nerve. The full text is available on line.
In that same session, I read a story called "The Mixer" by P. G. Wodehouse, a British humorist who is famous for his stories and novels about Jeeves, the inimitable British valet who continually saves the day for his master, Bertie Wooster. With typical Wodehouseian wit, the dog tells the story of how he unwittingly gets involved in an attempted burglary. This story was first published in the United States in the June 1916 issue of Redbook under the title “The Mixer: He Meets a Shy Gentleman.” A follow up story appeared in the July 1916 issue called “The Mixer: He Moves in Society.” The full text of both stories is available on line.
Next Story Time: Wednesday, February 22, from 1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m., on the first floor of Mid-Manhattan Library.
February's theme: Celebrate Black History Month with readings of Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Zora Neale Hurston.