Top 5 Classic Children’s Books About Dogs

A selection of classic children’s literature that explores the bond between man and dog.

The Call of the WildJack London


Inside every dog beats the heart of a wild wolf. First published in 1903, Call of the Wild  explores the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890’s through the viewpoint of Buck, a dog stolen from his family and sold as a sled dog. Buck grew up in the lap of luxury on a large plantation with a loving family. The new, harsh Alaskan environment forces Buck to fight for survival. He gradually sheds domestication and reverts to a feral state. London spent about a year exploring the Yukon, which gives The Call of the Wild an immediacy and authenticity that makes the story timeless and engrossing.

The Call of the WildScholastic , 2001, ISBN: 9780439227148

Old YellerFred Gipson


Dogs and humans form incredibly strong bonds that can turn tragic. Originally published in 1956, this story occurs in the 1860s and centers on a “dinghy yellow” dog adopted by young Travis Coates on his family’s Texas ranch. Old Yeller proves his value by saving various family members from every imaginable peril. Strong and courageous, Old Yeller proved protected Travis’s family from any sort of danger. But can Travis do the same when tragedy strikes poor Old Yeller? Like many children’s books,  Old Yeller explores the circle of life and the lessons learned along the way. Both the 1957 movie and the book are real tearjerkers. 

Old Yeller, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2001, ISBN: 9780060935474

The 101 DalmatiansDodie Smith


Before the two beloved movies (the 1996 live action version and the 1961 animated one), there was the book, originally published in 1956. The orginal story deals with some darker themes than the sanitized Disney narrative. Pongo and Missis (Perdita in the movies) lead a lovely life with their human owners, the Dearlys. Cruella de Vil, the Dearleys fur-fancying fashion plate neighbor, decides she wants Pongo and Missis’ puppies to make a spotted coat. When the fifteen puppies are kidnapped, even Scotland Yard is unable to find them. Pongo and Missis decide to take the matter into their own paws, much to the chagrin of their owners. Even children who already know the story of Pongo, Missis, their puppies, and the evil Cruella de Vil, will enjoy reading the book.

The 101 DalmatiansBarnes Noble, 1996, ISBN: 9780760704066

Where the Red Fern GrowsWilson Rawls


Published in 1961, Where the Red Fern Grows explores the bond between Billy and his  two Redbone Coonhounds, Old Dan and Little Ann. Billy comes from a poor family and all he desires in the world is a pair of good coon dogs. Since his parents cannot afford to buy him the dogs he wants, Billy sets out to earn the money himself. Old Dan had the brawn and Little Ann had the brains, and Billy trained them to become the finest hunting team in the valley. Glory and victory awaited them. Heartbreak and sadness came as well. Where the Red Fern Grows is an exciting tale of love, adventure, self-reliance, and the joys of hard work. The 1971 movie is excellent as well. 

Where the Red Fern GrowsYearling , 2000, ISBN: 9780375806810

Lassie Come-HomeEric Knight


The rough-coated, extremely loyal Collie Lassie first came to life in a short story published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938. Later, Eric Knight expanded the tale into a novel and the rest is history. Lassie is Joe’s prize collie and constant companion. One fateful day, Joe’s father loses his job, which is the family’s only income source. To make ends meet, Lassie must be sold. Three times Lassie escapes her new owner, and returns home to Joe. Then she is taken to the remotest part of Scotland, a journey too long and arduous for any dog to make alone. Lassie has other plans and will not let geography come between her and Joe. For the longest time, Lassie Come-Home served as the benchmark for books about the challenges, love, and loyalty between a dog and his/her human family. Fun fact: the hyphen in the title refers to a phrase “come-home dog,” which means a dog that runs away and returns to her/his original owner, no matter how many times she/he’s sold or how far away she/he’s taken. (The 1943 movie is a pretty faithful adaptation.)

Lassie Come-HomeHenry Holt and Co., 2003, ISBN: 9780805072068

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