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Find more Reid-Aloud Alert: Top Dog Stories
Dogs have been popular characters throughout contemporary children’s literature. A few modern-day classics include Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson; Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls; The Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith; and the many works of Jim Kjelgaard, such as Big Red and Kavik the Wolf Dog. The steady publication of quality dog books has continued in the last few years, and many of these selections make strong choices to read aloud to individuals as well as groups of children.
Lulu Walks the Dogs, by Judith Viorst (Gr. 2–5): Lulu, a fairly rude little girl, decides to make money by starting a dog-walking service. She finds three dogs to walk: an “enormous, bigheaded, bad-breathed brute named Brutus”; a tiny spoiled puppy named Pookie (“the POOK part rhymed with DUKE and not with BOOK”); and the shy dachshund, Cordelia, who hides every morning in a pile of junk. Walking the dogs is harder than Lulu thought it would be, and she tries her best to resist the offers of help from a seemingly perfect young neighbor, Fleischman.
10 Minute Selection: Read chapter 4. Lulu computes how much money she stands to make with her dog-walking venture. Proceed to chapter 5. Lulu meets Brutus, who is so big (“On a LARGE side? Brutus was GIGANTIC—a mountain, a whale, an SUV of a dog”) that his owner offers to pay Lulu an extra fifty cents per day. Move on to chapter 6, in which Lulu sings a money song and then meets Pookie, as well as Pookie’s mommy. “She wasn’t a dog, of course. She was a plump, pink human being with many curls.” Read chapter 7, in which Lulu meets Cordelia at “a haunted-looking house” with “junk piled helter-skelter on its sagging front porch.” Skip to chapter 9, in which Lulu picks up Brutus on her first day of the job, and he refuses to budge. The passage ends with Fleischman coming to the rescue.
East Indian Americans
The No-Dogs-Allowed Rule, by Kashmira Sheth (K–Gr. 3): Ishan is a rambunctious boy who tries his hardest to convince his parents to get a dog. He constantly breaks household rules and is eventually grounded. While serving his sentence, Ishan notices that the neighbor’s dog Oggie is barking and acting scared. Ishan decides to defy his punishment: “This is an emergency. That means no dillydallying.” He finds his elderly neighbor Mr. Jackson on the kitchen floor and calls 911. While Mr. Jackson recovers at the hospital, Ishan convinces his parents that he should take care of Oggie.
10 Minute Selection: Read chapter 5. Ishan tries to convince his father that they should get a dog. His father tells Ishan that he is suffering from “Canine Deficiency Syndrome, CDS.” The only cure is a cookie, or a laddu, an Indian sweet treat. Ishan then gets caught up in an elaborate plan to keep his father from doing his work so that the two can talk more about getting a dog. Read chapter 6. Ishan heads over to Mr. Jackson’s house with a bag of parathas, an Indian flatbread that Mr. Jackson calls potato pancakes. Ishan takes Oggie for a walk and gets into an exchange of insults with Danny, a neighbor kid. “If I’m Eye-Shan, you’re Danny Meany with a cowlick.”
The Dogs of Winter, by Bobbie Pyron (Gr. 4–8): After Ivan’s mother goes missing, the five-year-old finds himself homeless in Moscow. A gang of kids puts him to work begging for change. Ivan finds some feral dogs and becomes part of their pack. He goes out each day to get enough money to buy food for himself and dog pack, which includes a nursing mother and her pups. When their shelter catches fire, they are left out in the open in the middle of winter. They fall into a routine of spending the cold months in the city and the warmer days in the woods near a fairground. Ivan’s life with his dogs is threatened when he becomes the target of an intensive manhunt.
10 Minute Selection: Read most of chapter 13, “Lucky,” beginning with the sentence, “The days grew colder and there were more coats to watch.” A dog curls up next to Ivan while he’s huddled by a steam grate on a cold day. He shares potatoes with the dog and follows it to a “tumbledown shop at the end of a long alley.” The chapter ends with Ivan going into a small opening. Move on to chapter 29, “Winter.” Ivan is begging by the entrance of a fancy restaurant. A wealthy couple gives him some money. When the doorman tries to take the money from Ivan, the dogs force the doorman to back off. Ivan makes a soft gruel for the oldest dog, who has a few, worn-out teeth. When the other dogs go for the gruel, Ivan growls “No!” and these two dogs “who were my friends and who could tear me to pieces” back off.
Grief and Healing
A Dog Called Homeless, by Sarah Lean (Gr. 4–6): Fifth-grader Callie stops talking shortly after seeing visions of her dead mother. Her father has become withdrawn and moves Callie and her brother, Luke from their home to a smaller apartment. She becomes friends with Sam, who is introduced by his mother as “blind and mostly deaf, but otherwise he’s just like you and me.” An Irish wolfhound appears alongside images of Callie’s mother. The dog turns out to be real and apparently homeless. Readers, beware—have plenty of tissues on hand when the dog’s true role in the story is revealed.
10 Minute Selection: Read chapters 9 through 12. The passage begins with the sentence, “I started my silence at four minutes past seven.” Callie gets through the first day without speaking to anyone. On Saturday, Callie sees a gang of boys harassing a homeless man. She learns the man’s name is Jed. Later, a large dog runs up to Callie in the park. Callie decides to name the dog Homeless because she spots Jed nearby. “Next to him was the giant silver-gray dog with a cardboard sign around his neck. It said HOMELESS.”
Letters to Leo, by Amy Hest (Gr. 1–4): We learn a lot about fourth-grader Annie through the letters she writes to her new dog, Leo. She makes rules for him, such as “Be a good eater and don’t waste food and don’t make faces if you don’t like the food.” She also warns Leo not to bark at people in the apartment-complex elevator and not to wake up her father at 5:00 a.m. We also discover how Annie deals with the loss of her mother and what she thinks about her teacher “Mrs. No-Fun Bailey.”
10 Minute Selection: Read the series of Annie’s letters that begin with the March 2 date. We learn how Leo came to live with Annie and her father. Annie is excited about an essay contest. She writes about all of the “NO DOGS ALLOWED” signs around New York City. She thinks the library should have a sign that reads “WE LOVE DOGS. BRING YOUR DOG TO THE LIBRARY.” Annie thinks that the New York Yankees should have a similar sign at their stadium. Annie expresses her hatred of science, especially “saying all those human body words (hair follicles, nostrils, gallbladders, etc.) out loud in school!” End the selection with the April 2 letter. Annie draws a picture of Leo watching Annie’s father shaving: “It’s a painting about love.”
White Fur Flying, by Patricia MacLachlan (K–Gr. 4): Zoe and her family host rescue dogs as well as a rescue parrot named Lena. New neighbors move in next door, including a troubled young boy named Phillip, who refuses to speak. Phillip bonds with the dogs. One day, Phillip and a puppy named Jack go missing. Zoe heads off after them just as the sky turns dark, signaling a hailstorm.
10 Minute Selection: Read the first two chapters. We meet Zoe and her family as well as the dogs Kodi, “Great Pyrenees, 140 pounds of white fur,” and May, who is nearly as big as Kodi. They are all watching the new neighbors move in. Zoe’s sister, Alice, makes up stories about the newcomers. She calls the boy a prince. After she observes the boy’s interactions with the adults, Alice says, “Not a prince. A prisoner.” Zoe meets Phillip and the nervous woman next door, who is not Phillip’s mother. After the woman, Mrs. Croft, takes Phillip back inside, Zoe’s mother looks at Kodi and says, “Well, Kodi, I’m surprised you didn’t bite that woman.” Continue reading the first half of chapter 3. Zoe’s family is wondering about Phillip while the family parrot is imitating them: “There’s a boy next door who doesn’t talk and a parrot inside who talks all the time.” Mama has plans to pick up two more rescue dogs. End the selection with the sentence, “‘Two,’ said Lena, laughing with Dad.”
Invasion of the Dognappers, by Patrick Jennings (Gr. 2–5): When the dogs in his neighborhood start vanishing, Logan is convinced they have been “dognapped” by aliens. He becomes obsessed with this theory. His friends make fun of him, and his mother worries. Undeterred, Logan creates the Intergalactic Canine Rescue Unit to solve the mystery. The book is hilarious, and it features a flatulent dog and liberal usage of the word fart.
10 Minute Selection: Read the opening one-page chapter, “The First Dog.” Logan is looking out of the school-bus window when he yells at the bus driver, “A dog just vanished into thin air!” Read chapter 2, “Poof!” Logan is telling his friends how the dog vanished. He describes how the dog was whining for its master, “Unnnh, unnnh, unnnh,” over and over. Logan keeps repeating the whining noise until his friend Aggy says, “Enough with the whining, Logan.” Logan also overuses the word poof, causing Aggy to say, “Can you stop saying ‘poof’?” Move on to chapter 17, “The Planet Crete.” Logan is convinced a particular man is the dognapper and an alien in disguise. The man turns out to be a recent immigrant, but Logan doesn’t catch on about the two definitions of alien. While Logan and the man argue, Logan’s dog whines.
Because of Shoe and Other Dog Stories, edited by Ann M. Martin (Gr. 2–5): A dog named Sadie brags that she is “solely responsible for turning editor Martin from a cat person into ‘a dog-and-cat person.’” Other dogs we meet in this short story collection include Max, who is hot on the trail of a “poodlenapper”; Patty, who runs into a porcupine and a skunk on the same day; Picasso, who disappears; Gabe, who finds missing people; Bertha, who chases chickens; Polaire, whose owner is an artist; and Peanut, an old mutt who is described as “part wolf and part alligator.”
10 Minute Selection: All of these stories are natural choices to share aloud. For a top choice, I would suggest “Science Fair,” a science-fiction story by Mark Teague. Howard is a genius who is always thwarted from winning the science fair. He doesn’t have any friends. In fact, the other kids call him “DE-TURD” after a teacher remarks, “Foolish people may call you names, but you must never be deterred.” Then Howard turns himself into a dog, and his responses are what make this an outstanding read-aloud. As a dog, he says, “Broo” when another student, Judy, tells him it was a great experiment. Howard says, “Roop?” when she tells him he should have won. He goes on to say “Growf,” “Rodope,” “Arp,” “Fruff,” “Owruf,” and many other fun utterances before turning back into a boy.
is particularly fond of golden retrievers. His latest book is Silly Books to Read Aloud (2013). He may be reached at rapnrob.com.
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