There are some books that become rooted in our collective memory, spanning decades or centuries, and are beloved by a whole new generation of children over and over again. These 13 classic stories (listed in chronological order) about dogs and the humans who care for them may kick off a lifelong love of dogs for the little ones in your life.
We’ve put together a list of books to get you and your child reading to and about dogs. Having your child reading to a dog has never been easier than now, with the AKC B.A.R.K (Be a Reading Kid) program and app.
Through the program, children are welcome to read to a dog they know such as their own dog or a friend or neighbor’s dog. If they don’t know a dog they can read to, AKC will provide a database of Canine Ambassadors that are ready and willing to volunteer their dog. The parent or guardian will assist the child in logging the hours they read on the AKC website.
Children will receive incentives based on the number of hours read. Dog owners will also be able to log the number of hours their dogs have been read to and they will be recognized with a certificate.
“The Call of the Wild,” Jack London
Although it was written for adults, this classic — first published in 1903 — has become a fixture on school reading lists. It’s set in the 1890s, during the Klondike Gold Rush, and tells the story of Buck, a dog stolen from his family and sold as a sled dog. The harsh Alaska environment forces Buck to fight for survival, so he gradually sheds domestication and reverts to a feral state. London spent about one year in the Yukon, which gives “The Call of the Wild” and his other classic dog book, “White Fang,” an immediacy and authenticity that make them timeless.
“Lad: A Dog,” Albert Payson Terhune
Before there was Lassie, there was another heroic Collie named Lad. Albert Payson Terhune, who was well known for his classic dog stories, wrote the novel in 1919. The fictional dog was based on the real life, rough Collie owned by the writer’s family. A “thoroughbred in body and soul,” Lad protects and defends his people and others of his own species, often putting his own life at risk.
“Lassie Come-Home,” Eric Knight
The world first met rough-coated Collie Lassie in 1938 in a story published in the Saturday Evening Post. Later, Knight expanded it into a novel and gave birth to a classic. It became a benchmark for many future tales of challenge, love, and loyalty between a dog and her human family. Interesting fact: the hyphen in the title refers to the phrase “come-home dog,” which is a dog that runs away and returns to her original owner, no matter how many times she’s sold or how far away she’s taken.
“The Poky Little Puppy,” Janette Sebring Lowrey
Individuals of a certain age grew up on the Little Golden Books, like this one. Published in 1942, it tells the story of a curious puppy and the world he discovers during his adventures. Written for very young kids, “The Poky Little Puppy” has sold nearly 15 million copies, and its popularity endures to this day.
“Big Red,” Jim Kjelgaard
Kjelgaard wrote more than 40 books, many of them about dogs, and “Big Red” was his first to focus on an Irish Setter. The combination of the relationship between boy and dog and the vivid outdoor settings have captivated children since the book’s publication in 1945.
“Old Yeller,” Fred Gipson
Published in 1956, the story takes place in the 1860s and centers on a “dinghy yellow” dog taken in by young Travis Coates on his family’s Texas ranch. The dog proves his value again and again, saving family members from every imaginable peril. Like many children’s books, “Old Yeller” is more about the circle of life and the lessons we learn along the way.
“The 101 Dalmatians,” Dodie Smith
Before the beloved movie, there was the book, first published in 1956. Even kids who already know the story of Dalmatians Pongo, Missis (it’s Perdita in the film), their puppies, and the dreaded Cruella de Vil, can enjoy reading it over and over again.
“The Incredible Journey,” Sheila Burnford
The author based this book on the relationship she observed between her own pets: a Bull Terrier, a Siamese cat, and a Labrador Retriever. Perhaps that’s what makes the bond between the fictional characters so believable and touching. Published in 1961 and adapted into the Disney film “Homeward Bound,” the book is a perennial favorite to this day.
“Where the Red Fern Grows,” Wilson Rawls
Published in 1961, “Where the Red Fern Grows,” which features one boy and two Redbone Coonhounds, joins the list of classics passed down through the decades. It’s been adapted for film twice, and the novel is often found on school reading lists.
“The Phantom Tollbooth,” Norton Juster
This funny, allegorical fantasy, about a boy named Milo and an oversized talking dog, has entranced children and adults alike since it was published in 1961. In 2017, TriStar Pictures announced that a “live-action/hybrid” film adaptation was in the works.
“Go, Dog. Go!,” P.D. Eastman
Featuring cartoons and simple language, this beloved 1961 book is often used to teach children to read. It’s part of the Beginner Books series, which was started by Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss).
“Clifford the Big Red Dog,” Norman Bridwell
Clifford and his human pal Emily Elizabeth have dazzled young readers for decades with their shared adventures. The first book featuring the popular canine debuted in 1963 and elevated Scholastic to a premier publishing company. In fact, Clifford is the official Scholastic mascot.
“Because of Winn-Dixie,” Kate DiCamillo
Some books become instant classics, like this heartwarmer published in 2000. The story follows a young girl and the scruffy dog she adopts while exploring themes such as friendship, healing, and the power of community. It won the Newbery Medal in 2001 and was adapted into a feature film in 2005.
Logging Your Hours
As your child reads as part of the B.A.R.K. program, make sure to log their hours! Many rewards and prizes await, along with the joy of spending time with a canine companion.