Dogs, dogs, dogs — especially in the classroom

What’s the next best thing to having a real, live, sweet dog in the classroom? Having lots of books about dogs in the classroom! And even if you are lucky enough to attend a school where a dog is available in the classroom, lots of dog-themed books are the perfect complement to the pup. Here are some great book choices for elementary age readers — all of which promote the notion that every child should have a dog (and every dog should have a child) and the idea of rescuing a dog. I highly recommend all of these.

“Forever Home: A Dog and Boy Love Story” is by the supremely talented artist Henry Cole. There is no dialogue in this picture book, but the intricate and beautiful pen and ink drawings tell the story. In fact, when I read it with my six-year-old grandson, I told him he would have to tell me the story, and he was able to do so with many details. One of the ways in which the drawings are superb is that Cole manages to imbue the dog with so much feeling through just the dog’s body language. The only color in the book is the red leash that the boy, who desperately wants a dog, carries around with him. Interestingly, the story begins before we even see the title page. We see a double spread with a dog sitting in front of a door. The dog looks sad, and there is a “For Sale” sign in front of the house.

This book made me cry. It’s touching and beautifully told. But in the right hands, it’s also a wonderful tool for teaching students to make inferences. There is no text to tell them what is happening. They must look at the pictures, study them, and figure out what is going on — how the characters are feeling and what they are thinking. This is one of the books that should be in every school library and classroom shelf. At the end, Cole shares in the Author’s Note that the story is based on a real event. He also urges adoption of pets and says, “It’s been my experience that adopted animals can make the best pets: Often they’ve known the hardest of times and forever appreciate the love and security of a kind home.” Amen. (Scholastic Press)

Every Dog in the Neighborhood

A perfect companion book to “Forever Home” is “Every Dog in the Neighborhood” by the brilliant author/illustrator duo Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell. This picture book is much more than it would appear to be just looking at the cover. Yes, it’s about the many and varied types of dogs in a neighborhood, but thinking that it’s “just” a cute book about dogs is doing this magnificent creation a disservice. This is a book that will make children think. In the right hands, it will raise questions that will stretch the brain cells of children from four to fourteen. This innocent-looking picture book packs a powerful punch. It’s a book about activism and about making a difference. It’s also about small steps like those main character Louis makes—meeting neighbors and getting to know them. It’s about determination and the courage to buck City Hall. And it’s about the virtually universal desire of children to have a dog or cat—a creature that will love them unconditionally. If you buy one book this summer for your children or your library or your classroom, make it this one! And if you don’t have a pet for your child, there are literally thousands of dogs in animal shelters and rescues desperately in need of a loving family. And they will provide years of unconditional love in return. Read the complete review of this book with classroom suggestions for teachers here. (Neal Porter Books/Holiday House)

“Life in the Doghouse” is a series by Danny Robertshaw and Ron Danta about their rescue, some of their rescue dogs, and the crazy life they lead with the dozens of rescue dogs in their home. The series is written by Crystal Velasquez and illustrated by Laura Catrinella, both of whom do a very capable job of keeping the dialogue, the description, and the illustrations engaging for young readers. The actual stories, provided by Danny and Ron, are fabulous and heartwarming. To date there are three books in the series: “Life in the Doghouse: Elmer and the Talent Show,” “Life in the Doghouse: Moose and the Smelly Sneakers,” and “Life in the Doghouse: Millie, Daisy, and the Scary Storm.” Each book presents a lesson for kids to think about; lessons like trying to belong, making good choices, and determination. Kids will enjoy reading about these once-abandoned dogs and the kids who save them, helping themselves in the process. The real rescue was featured in the documentary “Life in the Doghouse,” and the rescue has saved over 13,000 dogs. (Aladdin Books)

Please note: This review is based on the final books provided by the publishers for review purposes.