The best children’s books about dogs

Emma Bland Smith Author Of Odin, Dog Hero of the Fires
By Emma Bland Smith

The Books I Picked & Why

Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm

By Jon Katz

Book cover of Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm

Why this book?

This is a photo-illustrated version of Jon Katz’s bestselling memoir life with dogs on a picturesque upstate New York farm. I fell immediately for this charming picture book, where each dog has their own important job. Border collie Rose herds sheep. Second border collie Izzy (a rescue with a sad-then-happy history) is a therapy dog who visits hospitals and nursing homes. Tough-looking Frieda guards the farm. But what is Lenore’s job (goes the refrain)? We finally learn that the essential job of fun-loving black lab Lenore is simply to bring love and joy to everyone. This book is basically the equivalent of a warm cup of tea and a quilt on a blustery day.


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Yes & No

By Elisha Cooper

Book cover of Yes & No

Why this book?

I grew up a dog lover, but today our family has one dog and one cat. I’ve learned to accept and even appreciate the differences in attitude between the two, and this beautifully-illustrated picture book celebrates them lovingly. We follow a dog and a cat throughout their day, as the dog responds an enthusiastic “Yes!” to all queries from the person of the house, while the cat gives a standoffish “No.” By the end, the roles reverse and we feel affection for both animals in their unique quirkiness. Cuddly and hopeful.


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Shiloh

By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Book cover of Shiloh

Why this book?

Marty comes across a cowering dog who has been abused by his owner. Instead of turning the dog back over to his brutal owner, Marty makes the decision to defy his parents and authorities and keep the dog in secret, and a beautiful relationship blooms between the two. I read this classic middle-grade novel aloud to my kids when they were about five and eight. Nuanced, uncliched, and thoughtful, it explores themes of poverty, parental relationships, responsibility, and kindness. I love that it shows a boy displaying empathy and care. It makes me choke up to think about—just as when I watch my own son bonding with our dog. 


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Harry the Dirty Dog

By Gene Zion, Margaret Bloy Graham

Book cover of Harry the Dirty Dog

Why this book?

First published in 1956, Harry the Dirty Dog is still around and charming young readers. To avoid a bath, Harry buries the scrubbing brush in the yard and then runs away. He gets into entertaining scrapes and messes, eventually returning home so covered in dirt and soot that he is unrecognizable to his family. Panic! How will Harry convince his family that he is their missing pet? I read this on repeat to my kids when they were young, and today I also read it during library storytimes. The retro art is visually appealing and the story has just-high-enough stakes to keep kids glued to their seats.  


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James Herriot's Dog Stories: Warm and Wonderful Stories about the Animals Herriot Loves Best

By James Herriot

Book cover of James Herriot's Dog Stories: Warm and Wonderful Stories about the Animals Herriot Loves Best

Why this book?

When I was young, James Herriot’s hilarious, insightful, and touching memoirs about his experiences as a vet in rural 1930s and 1940s Yorkshire made me both a reader and a writer. Happily, he adapted some of his dog stories for children, gathered here in an appealing illustrated anthology. I’ve read them all to my own kids, many times. I love that they’re long enough to allow kids to settle in and focus (short and snappy picture books have their place. So do long and dense ones!). The writing is eloquent and entertaining, and the stories are absorbing. Good luck not tearing up at several of these—when you’re not laughing or wishing that you, too, lived in the scenic English countryside!


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