Go-To Childhood Novels

Remembering my favorite go-to books of childhood, I was fortunate to have a lot of reading time when visiting my grandparents who had amazing ‘old’ collections of work I’d never heard of. They loved providing animal stories like Riki-Tiki-Tavi and the following. I was well acquainted with the Disney movies of these first two before I ever read them, but the books are better. And Ribsy is the 6th of the Henry Huggins series, but was the first I encountered (I blame the front cover) and it made me a serious devotee of Cleary’s. -Cinda

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The Hundred and One Dalmatians | Dodie Smith

Summary: The Hundred and One Dalmatians is a 1956 children’s novel by Dodie Smith about the kidnapping of a family of Dalmatian puppies. It was originally serialized in Woman’s Day as The Great Dog Robbery, and details the adventures of two Dalmatians named Pongo and Missis as they rescue their puppies from a fur farm. In case you didn’t know, a 1967 sequel, The Starlight Barking, continues from the end of this novel.

Recommendation: Dodie Smith’s original work evokes sensations and depth you can’t find in any other versions of the book, its retelling, or movies. Her use of descriptive language is visually beautiful. Her use of dry English humor in her characters is ultimately appealing. Even the eccentricities of the dog, human, and ‘other’ characters are more dramatic and funny. Reading it might stun those who know the Disney films as their introduction, but give it a shot – totally worth it.

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Old Yeller | Fred Gipson

Summary: At first, Travis couldn’t stand the sight of Old Yeller. The stray dog was ugly, and a thieving rascal, too. But he sure was clever, and a smart dog could be a big help on the wild Texas frontier, especially with Papa away on a long cattle drive up to Abilene. Strong and courageous, Old Yeller proved that he could protect Travis’s family from any sort of danger. But can Travis do the same for Old Yeller?

Recommendation: This is another dog story as we might know it through Disney, but it has a different origin – Fred Gipson created many hero-dogs for the reading. Yeller may be my favorite because of the family (mother with two sons) he adopts – each person has a different relationship with the thieving dog at first. Eventually, Old Yeller earns their trust and his place as pet/guardian over the homestead. This story is full of excitement, hunting, thrills, chases, and even fights. The ending is what you might expect if you are familiar with the story, but it isn’t just a bunch of sad… it’s heartrending and hopeful, and sweet.

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Ribsy | Beverly Cleary

Summary: Separated from his owner, Henry Huggins, in a shopping center parking lot, an ordinary city dog begins a string of bewildering adventures.

Recommendation: Since I was coming up with great dog stories for this blog entry, here is one I selected to read as a kid because of its cover that introduced me to a favorite author. I’ve since read all of the Henry Huggins, Ellen and Otis, Beezus and Ramona, Ralph S. Mouse, and Mitch and Amy stories among others. Ribsy remains a favorite because of the delight I experienced in this fun All-American town with such rich and believable characters right around my age (when I first encountered it).

About the author

Smithton Public Library

The Smithton Public Library District is located in southern Illinois, near St. Louis, MO. The library serves nearly 5,000 residents. We hope you visit us soon!