Tag Archive | Dogs

Lester’s Dog, by Karen Hesse

Lester's Dog, by Karen Hesse

It’s kind of a depressing neighborhood. The narrator walks past the home of Mr. Frank, and remembers that “Mama says he’s a broken man since Mrs. Frank died…” But the narrator’s deaf friend, Corey, urges him to ignore Lester’s dog and follow him up the hill. “It doesn’t matter what you say to Corey, ’cause he can’t hear you, and even if he could, he’s too stubborn to listen.”

The book is called Lester’s Dog, who is actually a neighborhood legend. (The dog bit the narrator when he was six, leaving a scar on the boy’s nose…) The book opens as he’s watching the dog barking down the street after a passing car. Lester’s house has a patched, dusty lawn, “and the grass gone from Lester’s dog digging it up.” But nothing stops Corey – not even Lester’s dog – and soon the two friends are dodging traffic to cross Pimlico Road.

All the details about the neighborhood make the story seem real. Author Karen Hesse apparently based it on memories of some real friends, dedicating the book to “the whole West Garrison Avenue gang but especially for Joey.” There’s even realistic, chalk-like drawings that make the children seem like real people. It adds tension to the story about the neighborhood’s lurking drama: the threat from that dog of Lester’s.

Corey’s found an abandoned kitten, and the kitten seems to be smiling along with the boys. The boys carry it home – dodging the traffic again to cross Pimlico road, and “Before I know it, we’re at the top of Garrison Avenue. And there, two lawns down, is Lester’s dog…” The dog growls, “low and nasty” and the boy with the kitten feels scared. The kitten meows and shivers, and then the dog lunges, snapping and snarling.

He leaps! He barks! He snaps for the kitten. After running desperately, the furious narrator suddenly yells back, “from a place inside of me I didn’t know was there.” And the dog slinks away, whining and “crawling on his belly to hide under Lester’s porch.”  (One reviewer on Amazon complained that “This is the worst message possible for a child who may be unfamiliar with dogs…running away from a dog is the SUREST way to get bitten, and staring into a dog’s face is perceived by the dog as menacing-inviting an attack.”) But as the book ends, the cars are now driving down the street without being chased by the barking dog after all. And best of all, the yelling attracts Mr. Frank, who’s finally left his arm chair and is waving to the boys.

“[A]nd I know just what to do with that kitten after all.”

Charlie and Tess, by Martin Hall and Catherine Walters

Charlie and Tess

Both the author and illustrator live in England, but the story comes straight from the animal kingdom. A farmer finds a lost lamb in a snowstorm, and his children adopt it as a pet… Soon it’s the farmer’s dog Tess who’s watching over the baby sheep, and the two animals become great friends. They share a doghouse and keep each other warm – and Charlie and Tess tells the charming stories about their life together.

The two animals look very cozy, curled up together on a red flannel blanket. The illustrations by Catherine Walters are bright and colorful, and they offer everything you’d want in a children’s book – a happy dog, sunny days, and the excitement of new friends. There’s some fun drawings of pair in a flowery field (with mice poking their noses through stalks in the foreground). And when the farmer tosses a beach ball, both Tess and the lamb Charlie take turns chasing after it!

It was Martin Hall’s first book, but there’s no need for a complicated plot. The lamb-as-a-pet angle is already enough, with the added warmth of his friendship with the farmer’s loyal dog. While Hall savors these details, he slips in an extra plot point. Charlie carries a newspaper proudly in his mouth, and the lamb even gets his own leash. “Sometimes I wonder if Charlie is turning into a dog, the children’s mother admits. And when Charlie joins the farmer’s flock of sheep, Charlie thinks it’s his job to herd them!

The daughter laughs while the farmer worries, but the flowery fields keep the story colorful. “Tess was lonely without her friend, and whined every night be her doghouse,” and soon there’s an even stranger twist ultimately leads the book to a surprisingly satisfying climax. Soon there’s a big snowstorm which threatens the farmer’s entire flock of sheep. “If they didn’t move into the valley quickly it would be too late,” Charlie realizes. “He ran ahead of the flock, baaing loudly. He turned back and butted the other sheep, pulling at their wooly coats with his teeth.

“He raced backward and forward, until finally the flock began to move….”

There’s a happy ending, since the farmer’s sheep are saved after all – and it’s Tess the dog who gets to deliver the good news. (She tugs on the farmer’s trousers and barks, then leads him to a sheltered hollow.) The farmer’s entire flock had weathered the night safely. And in the final drawing, the dog proudly licks the sheep’s fur.

Dropped-Off Dog by Catherine Lagorio

Dropped-Off Dog (A Mostly True Tail)

The book’s cover even looks like a dog, with a background illustration showing fur in sunlight. This sets a doggy theme for the book’s realistic watercolor sketches, and it’s based on a real dog who came to live in a rural town in California. Author Catherine Lagorio was inspired to write Dropped-Off Dog by the real problem of animals who are abandoned out in the countryside. You have been warned: there some parts of this book which are actually very sad…

A little tiger-striped dog lives in a cozy house with Abuelita — an old woman drawn walking with a cane. Then one day Abuelita is whisked away in a wheelchair, after a day when “many strangers came and went” — and the dog hides under the bed. “No one noticed him. No one remembered he was there. That night, after everyone left, the little tiger-striped dog was all-alone…”

Brace yourself, because here comes the sad part. “Though he had his bed to sleep in, he had nothing to eat, nothing to drink, and no one to take care of him.” The dog eats crumbs he finds around the house, until he’s driven into the countryside and abandoned. “He ran after the car for a few minutes as fast as his little legs could carry him…but it was no use.” The dog remains abandoned for several days, and eventually “quit hoping someone would come back to get him.

“He was now very hungry and the little puddles of water he had been drinking from at the side of the road had dried up…”

The last page of the book shares a note from the author — that this happens all too frequently. She acknowledges that some people mistakenly think that an animal can survive in the woods — it can’t — and she wrote this book to raise awareness. Lagorio once worked as an elementary school teacher, and she even has a Master’s in Language Development. I wish her nothing but success in her ongoing campaign to keep dogs from being left behind alone in the woods…

I was actually really excited when this story’s dog finally discovered a bowl of dog food at a home near the woods. There was a bigger dog growling nearby — it was his food, after all. But that dog’s kindly owner later discovered the little tiger-striped dog hiding in the woods. Instinctively the little dog runs away, but the farmer lures it back with a handful of tasty hot dogs. “You are a cute little guy,” the farmer says, and though the dialogue is a bit wooden, the farmer explains to his wife that “he needs us.” The book ends with a picture of the two dogs happily curled up together on pillows — and I misted up at the book’s final sentence.

“…the Little Tiger-Striped Dog became Steve, and he really, truly lived happily ever after.”