The Year of the Dog (Books)

September 22, 2022 Comments Off on The Year of the Dog (Books)

Are there more timely topics right now than puppies? For sure. (If you hit up Instagram, you can read my recent posts on Banned Books Week and Latinx Heritage Month. If it ever dips below 80 degrees, I promise to start talking about fall books. I won’t leave you hanging on Halloween releases, either, and then before you know it we’ll be onto the annual Gift Guide!)

But while today’s subject isn’t making headlines, it has been very topical in our own home for the last nine months. And judging by the record number of doggie-themed picture books published this year, maybe we’re not alone? (Or maybe I’m just finally paying attention.)

I’ve previously shared the story of how we got our newest pup—and the train wreck that was our early days together. And yet, the dog we have today is almost unrecognizable from the one who wouldn’t let us come near him. Watching our pup transform from terrified and traumatized to affectionate and assured has felt nothing short of miraculous. (Now, if he would just stop peeing on himself when he potties, we’d really be in business.)

But Fozzie hasn’t been the only one who has changed over the past year. Did you know dogs can draw teenagers out of their bedrooms? Did you know that watching a dog tackle a stuffed trout can unleash a belly laugh you’ve been holding onto for years? My husband and I used to argue about who had to take the pup on his final walk of the night. These days, we go together, finding excuses to do longer loops because it gives us a chance to connect—away from phones, laptops, and TV. As it turned out, we needed Foz just as much as he needed us.

Whether you have a dog, are planning to get a dog, or are looking to placate your dog-obsessed kiddo, I hope you’ll check out these adorable 2022 picture books. From heartwarming to hilarious, they represent a wide spectrum of reasons why dogs are, quite simply, the best. (Sorry, cat people. You got your shout out earlier this year.)

Piglet Comes Home
by Melissa Shapiro, DVM; illus. Ellie Snowdon
Ages 4-8

How could I not begin by sharing a story of a traumatized puppy’s introduction into a loving family? Piglet Comes Home: How a Deaf Blind Pink Puppy Found His Family—tell me that isn’t the sweetest title!—is inspired by a dachshund Chihuahua mix rescue fostered by the author, Melissa Shapiro, a veterinarian and animal welfare advocate. (Yes, photos of the real Piglet are included in the book’s back matter.)

The story of Piglet’s dramatic arrival is all the more engaging thanks to the speech bubbles that populate around the other dogs, belaying their hopes for the newcomer—I hope it’s “a pup who likes to play ‘pounce’ like me!”—followed by their ensuing confusion at what arrives instead (“I could swear that is a piglet”). In addition to looking nothing like the other dogs, Piglet can neither see nor hear well. As the dogs take turns approaching Piglet’s crate, Piglet just whimpers. Even the house, with its towering staircase, is all kinds of scary. (Did I mention our pup took days to get up the nerve to try the stairs in our house?)

Thanks to the oldest dog, a grey terrier mix, who begins sleeping with his body wrapped around Piglet, Piglet eventually begins to trust his new siblings. He discovers exciting smells on daily walks and the thrill of a backyard chase. He even masters the stairs. And as his confidence translates into leadership of his pack, we are reminded that even the smallest can be mighty. An endearing tribute to the spirit of rescue dogs and the rewards of found families.

by Breanna Carzoo
Ages 2-6

On the list of things I never knew the picture book world needed—and now can’t imagine without—is a story narrated by a fire hydrant. Breanna Carzoo’s debut picture book, Lou, charts a fire hydrant’s journey from toilet to superhero through bold, expressive paper collages against a crisp white background. That’s right, Lou is a red fire hydrant, who fears his only purpose is to function as a toilet for passing canines. “All day, every day, one by one…they SNIFF and TWIRL and TWIST and LIFT and…well, you know.”

Don’t misunderstand him: Lou is happy to be useful. And he loves dogs. “It’s just that sometimes…deep down inside, I feel like there’s more in me than what they can see.” Lou doesn’t realize how literally accurate this proclamation is, but we readers do: the artwork reveals a pipe of blue water running down the street and into the hydrant’s base. In fact, half the fun of this story are the details the reader will catch before Lou does. As Lou speculates about the different jobs he might aspire to—neighborhood DJ?—the reader spots a kitchen fire above a Doggy Day Care. As Lou confides in us about his existential worries, the reader notices fire engines arriving. And as the fire fighters sprint towards Lou with hoses in hand, a Dalmatian approaches with more on his mind (finally!) than a friendly whiz.

And then, in a blink of Lou’s beady little eyes, it becomes clear: “I know what I have to do!” A witty, perfectly paced celebration of the neighborhood hero you never considered, and an ode to the self-love required to seize the day when it comes.

Every Dog in the Neighborhood
by Philip C. Stead & Matthew Cordell
Ages 4-8

Themes of community also abound in this delightful inter-generational story of a boy’s entrepreneurial endeavor to catalog the different dogs in his neighborhood. I suppose we shouldn’t expect anything less from acclaimed picture book veterans, Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell, but Every Dog in the Neighborhood delivers on childhood insights, while providing enough grown-up chuckles to ensure those reading the story will also be thoroughly entertained. (The dog names alone are worth the price of entry.)

When Louis tells his grandmother that he wants a dog, she answers, “Nonsense! There are enough dogs in the neighborhood already.” But when he presses her further, she can’t give him a number. Nor, it turns out, can City Hall, to whom he writes at the example of said grandmother, who is busy making her own voice heard about a different community issue. “Louis…sometimes if you want something done you’ve just got to do it yourself.” Grandma may appear a bit rough around the edges to most folks, but she’s exactly the supportive partner Louis needs.

Dear, sweet Louis, with his backpack of supplies and matter-of-fact interrogations at every house in the neighborhood! His earnestness reminds me of my son at that age. With each ring of the doorbell, Louis learns about the four-legged inhabitants, but he also learns about the people who love them, despite (because of?) their many quirks. It’s a marvelous window into the world of dog ownership, not to mention a look at the magic that happens when adults give free reign to children’s ideas.

Don’t Worry, Murray
by David Ezra Stein
Ages 2-5

Have you ever considered how much bravery is required from a young child—I mean, doggie—on any given day? Why, they might get wet; they might be surprised by loud noises; they might even encounter dark, shadowy monsters as they’re getting into bed! (Heck, ours came to a complete stop in front of an orange construction sign this morning and wouldn’t move…for seven minutes.) With narration that directly addresses the sweet, skeptical face on the page—“Why don’t you want to go outside, Murray?—Don’t Worry, Murray gives readers a look at the pitfalls of a day in the life of a pup, while dispensing the kind of reassurance all little ones need.

“Don’t worry, Murray” and “Good boy, Murray” are repeated throughout the book, as the narrator coaches little Murray through a walk in the rain, a trip to the dog park, a BBQ, and back home to bed. The text is kept to a minimum so that David Ezra Stein’s signature watercolors can shine, from Murray’s forlorn eyes in his yellow slicker to his bouncy, excited body language after making a furry friend.

But the best part is the tiniest bit of tension that exists between the narrator’s offhand optimism and the reality playing out on the page. There may not be fireworks at the BBQ, as Murray fears, but the loud pop of a balloon has the same startling effect. (As a parent, this discrepancy hits close to home: “You’re fine!” I’ve told my son twice now, only to watch him get stung by the very bees he was worried about.) Here, the real reassurance doesn’t come through the platitudes of “Don’t worry, Murray!” but from Murray’s own perseverance, a feat which the narrator deservedly praises him for at the book’s conclusion. “You know, even though it wasn’t easy, you tried a lot of new things today.” It’s praise like this that has Murray dreaming of braver days ahead.

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Books published by Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Holiday House, and HarperCollins, respectively. All opinions are my own. Links support the beautiful Old Town Books, where I am the children’s buyer (and yes, we ship!).

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