Okay, with a title like this, you might think I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Oh . . . um . . . wrong imagery, sorry. Anyway, the Things and I were discussing the so-called children’s “classics” and how often they involve the dogs dramatically croaking by the end of the book. This theme is so pervasive in children’s literature that an author, Gordon Korman, even wrote a book about it – No More Dead Dogs. Now this is a book I might actually choose to read.
Unlike these others.
Seriously, what the heck is up with this? Why do these people like torturing young kids? Sure, tragedy happens, but COME ON, do we need that many books about it? And why is it that in order to be considered good, a book must be incredibly depressing, and at times, depressing AND horrific. Why, huh, why?
But you might wonder why the Things and I were discussing dead dogs. No it’s not because just because I’m a “sick puppy” it’s cause there is something wrong with our educational system. Thing Two is currently reading a lovely book called Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner. I too was forced to read this monstrosity, er, classic back when I was in school. Good to know they are still torturing children all these years later.
You might think I’m exaggerating (who me?) but I’ll show you. Here’s a compilation of four books the Things and I came up with in which a dog springs from his mortal coil and we all coil up into balls sobbing and / or wanting to stab the author. To round off the post, I’ve got a list of creepy sounding picture books to help children deal with pet death. And people wonder what’s wrong with kids these days. Authors, that’s who!
The Prime Offenders
1. Stone Fox
I thankfully have forgotten most of this book, but Thing Two and Wikipedia, source of all knowledge, were kind enough to enlighten me. The book is about a boy named, not kidding, Little Willy, who enters a sled dog race with his canine pal, Searchlight. Not Stone Fox, he’s the Indian guy. Anyway, even though most sleds are pulled by several dogs, this one is pulled by Searchlight alone who heroically makes it to the end of the race. Well almost. Ten feet from the finish line, his heart bursts.
Yeah, you heard right. THE DOG’S HEART BURSTS. Ka-boom! By the way, if you weren’t depressed enough already, this was based on the true story of an exploding dog heart.
2. Old Yeller
Ah the perennial favorite of school teachers everywhere – at least it was back in the 80s when teachers decided to read it to me TWICE in two successive years. Because there’s nothing like going through an entire book getting attached to a dog only for it to get freaking RABIES at the end and even better, get shot to death by its beloved owner. Aw.
Good news, they made a sequel too. Old Yeller’s son, Savage Sam, only gets a hatchet in the back. Lucky mutt.
3. Where the Red Fern Grows
I’m fairly certain I had to read this as a child, but had blessedly forgotten it before Thing One helpfully reminded me. This one has not only TWO dead dogs, but a dead kid! Extra points! It’s the story of Billy (not Willy) who gets some coon dogs (they chase um racoons) named Dan and Ann. One day, a bully that’s been bothering Billy falls on an ax and blood spurts out of his mouth. That’ll show ’em. Later, Dan and Ann fight a mountain lion and Dan donates his intestines to the cause. Ann dies of grief and probably to get out of the book. A heartwarming story for sure. HOLY CRAP.
This tale involves a black sharecropper and his family who apparently ticked off a higher power at some point cause their lives really stink. The sheriff arrests the dad for feeding his family actual food and then shoots the dog, Sounder. The dog loses an ear and an eye and can’t use a leg cause this author intends to kill him SLOWLY. Dad is sentenced to hard labor around the country and his son follows around looking for him and -yay- finds him! Right after he is half blown up in a dynamite blast. Dad dies, then the dog crawls under the house and dies too, but its happy cause at one point the boy learns to read. Lucky kid, now he can read this trip down horror lane.
Now onto the “puppy grief for kiddos” books. I get that kids do lose pets and it’s nice to have a story to help kids work through their feelings and all that. But the sheer number – and the titles – kind of creeps me out. Observe this bit from “Dog Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant who normally can write but can’t draw to save her life:
Also check out these other winning titles:
Will I See Fido in Heaven?
Paw Prints in the Stars
Saying Goodbye to Lulu
Sammy in the Sky
Billy’s Dog is Dead, Dead, Dead
Sorry, I might have made that last one up. Dogs are real parts of our lives and in general, way better than your average human. Because of this, I really think they deserve better than over-the-top deaths in “classic” literature, or worse, in syrupy children’s books. So, authors, for crying out loud: Leave the dogs alone!