Best Dog Books of All Time
Best Dog Stories
"Best" is always a subjective term, but these books are five of my favorites, not only as a child, but also as an adult. They share common characteristics: in addition to being utterly heartwarming (and in some cases, tear jerking) stories about dogs, they are all also exceptionally well written, with many of the attributes of fine literature. They are originals, classics even, no genre novels here. They are listed in no particular order of preference.
Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight
Lassie Come Home was the first grand dog story I ever read. It served as the inspiration for all future "Lassie" publications, both written and film. The book was set in Yorkshire, England, as well as Scotland, during hard economic times when people were forced to "go on the dole." Lassie was a valuable tri-colored Collie owned by a working man and his wife, and was the beloved companion of their son, Joe, whom Lassie met daily, like clockwork, at the school house gate. Eventually times became so hard that Lassie was sold to a wealthy Duke; however., Lassie escaped time and again and came home to her family. Finally, the Duke took her to his estate in Scotland, to prevent this from happening anymore. Well, you can probably guess what happened ... she escaped ... and the rest of the book is devoted to the story of her thousand mile journey home to her family. They just don't write books like this anymore.
Having read this book a dozen times, I'm still incapable of reading the description towards the end, when Lassie crawled the last few painful feet to the gate to meet her young master Joe at the schoolhouse gate, without dissolving in tears.
Lassie Come Home is a one of a kind, must read kind of book.
Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard
Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard, was my second favorite dog book from childhood, and one I read over and over again. It is the story is of a champion Irish Setter, owned by a wealthy businessman, Mr. Haggin, who had a large estate in a wilderness area in Canada. Living nearby was a hardworking teenaged boy, Danny, and his father, Ross. They were trappers who eked out a living from the forest. Danny was enamoured with the beautiful dog, Red, and Mr. Haggin allowed Red to live with the boy, and taught Danny about dogs and dog shows. Once, early in the book, Big Red ran to the ground a huge grizzly bear known as "Old Magesty." Fearing for the dog's safety, Danny called the dog away and let the bear get away. Many adventures later, when the bear had all but killed his father, Danny took the dog and used him to hunt down Old Magesty, killing the bear and permanently injuring the dog in the process. The account of how he faced up to Mr. Haggin afterwards, and Mr. Haggin's response, has a valuable message for us all in this day of animal rights vs. animal welfare. As much as we love our pets, they are never as valuable as a human being, for human beings alone are made in the image of God.
Savage Sam by Fred Gipson
Savage Sam by Fred Gipson was another childhood favorite, written as the sequel to a book everyone knows, Old Yeller. Although I read and enjoyed Old Yeller, I adored Savage Sam. (It has a much happier ending, too!) If you love adventure, this is the book for you. Sam was Old Yeller's son, a type of blueticked Coonhound, a fabulous tracker with a "voice" like a silver bell. He was the pet of Little Arliss, Travis' (from Old Yeller) younger brother. The two were inseparable, and always getting into trouble. One day a band of raiding Indians captured both brothers, as well as a young girl who was visiting and several others ... and one of the Indians took a hatchet to Sam, leaving him for dead.
Imagine how, in the depths of their despair, the captives felt some days later to hear the unmistakable rise and fall of Savage Sam's silvered tongue in the distance, on their trail!
This story has to be one of the best boy-dog adventure stories of all time.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
There probably isn't a dog lover alive who hasn't read Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, which is the account of a young boy and his two Redbone Coonhounds in the Ozark Mountains. Poor as church mice, the boy yearned for some hunting dogs, and no other dog would do. He worked odd jobs for two years to earn the money to order two pups from the back of a catalog, and then walked heaven only knows how many miles to the closest city to pick them up from the train station ... camping overnight in the woods. (I'm pretty sure that not only do they not write books like this anymore, but they don't make kids like this anymore, either!) He trained the puppies to hunt, and the adventures they had were magnificent. Eventually he earned enough money for the family to afford to move from the country to town. (Not that he cared, he cared only about the hunting, his parents kept up with the money.)
Be forewarned ... this book has a poignant, bittersweet ending ... but it's one you will never forget.
Nop's Trials by Donald McCaig
Nop's Trials, by Donald McCaig is one of the delights of my adult life, as I did not discover the book until I was an adult. It is every bit as elegantly written, as earthy and as unpretentious a book as all of the others above.
Nop is a working Border Collie who lives on a farm in Virginia, herding "woolies" for his owner, Lewis Burkholder, a taciturn farmer and the local fire chief. When Nop is stolen, Lewis never, ever gives up hope of finding his dog. The adventures of both, detailed in the book, are a story worthy of Mark Twain. Nop's Trials is a must read book for all dog lovers, and for Border Collie enthusiasts in particular. If you can read the understated account of Lewis and Nop's reunion without a tear coming to your eye, you are a better person (or perhaps not) than I am.
I know, I know, I didn't even mention the Albert Payson Terhune books, (and I read them all, Grey Dawn being my favorite) or The Incredible Journey, or The Call of the Wild or Greyfriar's Bobby, or Beautiful Joe or Champion Dog Prince Tom. I wanted to highlight those that had given me the most pleasure over the years.
What are YOUR all time favorite dog books?