by Dianna Winget
I'm not only a voracious reader but also a writer who has been involved with publishing for thirty years. I've had plenty of opportunity to see trends come and go, to watch the popularity of genres rise, peak and fall. Some last mere months, some for years, some cycle around and around—true crime, paranormal, contemporary, western, romance, science fiction, memoirs—and the list goes on. But there seems to be one type of book that never goes out of style, never wanes in popularity, and manages to appeal to readers of all age groups and backgrounds. Yep, you probably guessed it from the title of my post—books about dogs.
(Sure, books about horses may run a close second if you're a ten year old girl, but honestly, how many forty year old men and women do you see reading about horses? But books about dogs, now that's a whole different story—pun intended)
According to the ASPCA, some 37-47% of American households own a dog. Not surprising when you consider what wonderful friends, partners, guardians and companions they make. That statistic made me reflect on the special role dogs play in my own life, and on how many books about dogs I've loved over the years. There's no way I can remember or mention them all, so here's a pitifully inadequate list of titles that have powerfully affected me over the years.
WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, Wilson Rawls—this amazing, heartwarming, bittersweet story is the first "dog book" I ever fell in love with. It's still on my shelf, and in my heart, to this day. Yes, the story of Billy and his beloved coon hounds Old Dan and Little Ann will make you cry, but you'll be a better person for it.
LAD, A DOG, Albert Payson Terhune—you may never have heard of the old Lad of Sunnybank series, but these books deeply captured my attention at twelve years old and thoroughly convinced me I needed a beautiful, intelligent collie of my own. I was excited to discover that at least some of the titles have been reprinted for today's readers to discover.
PATSY ANN OF ALASKA, Tricia Brown—I first learned of Patsy Ann when my husband and I visited Juneau, Alaska by cruise ship and encountered her statue on the dock. This inspiring little bull terrier greeted nearly every cruise ship docking at Juneau for over a decade in the 1940's. There are many books and articles about her. Here's a link to an article I wrote about her for Columbia Kids magazine.
ONE GOOD DOG, Susan Wilson—I loved this insightful, heart tugging tale of a hardnosed, arrogant businessman who is very reluctantly drawn into helping free a pit bull mix named Chance from the despicable world of dog fighting.
THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, Garth Stein—I almost didn't read this book after hearing the movie was "heartbreaking." After all, I have my limits. But I ended up giving it a try and am glad I did. Yes, there is sadness, but there's also plenty of humor, hope and inspiration. At the end I felt more uplifted than sad.
THE DOGS OF CHRISTMAS, W. Bruce Cameron—I couldn't resist the cover of this book which, despite the title, has very little to do with any holiday. Rather, it's the tale of a broken hearted widower, Josh, who is outraged when a neighbor abandons his very pregnant dog at Josh's Colorado home. Though he's never had any interest in dogs, it's truly charming to see how one dog, plus a basketful of puppies, totally transforms his life.
It's nearly impossible to stop with just these six, but stop I must or the list could go on and on. But even these few titles are enough to validate my point; books about dogs have the staying power of peanut butter and jelly and apple pie. I mean, who doesn't love them? I sure do. It's why I simply must include a dog in each of my middle grade novels. It's also why I was beyond thrilled when my editor first shared the cover of my middle grade, A MILLION WAYS HOME.
It's the story of twelve year old Poppy Parker, and her determined efforts to save Gunner, a beautiful German shepherd slated to be euthanized. I'm delighted to hear from young (and not so young) readers who have fallen in love with the book and want to know what happens after the story ends. The most common question? "Does everything turn out okay for Gunner?" And there's something so endearing about their concern. It's confirmation that I'm contributing to a whole new generation of readers who love books about dogs.
© Dianna Dorisi Winget