In my new book, Wolfie, Lucie has always wanted a dog, and her wish is finally granted when her Uncle turns up with a large, toothy, furry “dog”. But is it a dog? Lucie is not sure, although the grown-ups (never good at seeing what is under their noses) mock her claim that the new pet is actually a wolf...
Wolfie is a more dangerous proposition than the average domestic dog. And that’s even before you take into account the fact that she can talk. But in the end, dogs and wolves are both pack animals, and it is the strong attachments they form to their group, and the uncomplicated nature of their affections, that makes them such precious companions, real or imagined, to children.
Some Different Kinds of Books About Dogs
1) Dog as Friend
For a lonely, often an only, child a dog becomes an essential companion. Perhaps the most famous example (note my pun here!) is George of the Famous Five. A spiky, difficult girl who wants to be a boy, and feels misunderstood by her parents, George is deeply attached to her dog, Timmy. Indeed it is her determination to constantly defend Timmy which sparks off many of her adventures.
My Sam in Sam and the Griswalds is a timid and lacking in confidence – quite unlike George. But acquiring a dog, Biter, is a crucial ingredient in pepping up Sam’s life. And the support of a dog can be important even in adolescence: as in the wonderfully funny but poignant Feeling Sorry for Celia, where Elizabeth has a better relationship with her collie than her own parents.
2) Dog as Ally
Dogs can be equally important to children who, while they have siblings (maybe lots of siblings) are seeking refuge from the rivalry that often brings. Helen Cresswell’s Ordinary Jack has a closer, less demanding relationship with his mongrel dog, Zero, than with his overly talented siblings. OK, so Zero is far from bright, inclined to wee on the floor when nervous and scared of almost everything. But he makes Jack, the only ordinary member of the Bagthorpe tribe, feel tonnes better about himself.
For Peter Hatcher, narrator of Judy Blume’s classic Fudge books, having a dog is offered as compensation for having to put up with endlessly demanding, troublesome younger brother, Fudge.3) The Dog Weepy
My primary school reading book was not usually of much interest to me – but then I read Bedgellert. This was the tale of the hound, Gellert, who saved Prince Llewellyn’s baby son from a wolf attack. But his master, returning home, thought that Gellert had killed the baby – and slew the dog, only to realise his mistake when he found the child unharmed.
This story absolutely devastated me. My heartbreak was only matched a few years later with the death of the boy Stephen’s hound, Amile, in Barbara Leonie Picard’s medieval novel, One is One. It’s a wonderful story and still in print – recommended to all with an interest in dogs, monasteries or painting.
Somehow, terrible to say, it’s always worse when an animal dies. Even today, as I watch the (definitely not for children) series Game of Thrones, it’s not the growing pile of human corpses that upsets me: it’s what happens to the dog (ok, it's a dire-wolf - same thing).
4) The Naughty Dog
Being animals, dogs cannot be blamed for being naughty – and so children can revel in all the things that a bad dog can get up to (and which they might fancy themselves). Dogs run away, dig up flower beds, chase cats, jump fences, trip up the postman, steal food, and generally cause all kinds of enjoyable domestic chaos. I especially like Rose Impey’s Houdini Dog books, where the two sisters remind me of myself and my sister. We badly wanted a dog, and (as in Impey’s book) we decided that a protracted nagging campaign was the best way to get one. When we finally got one - a beautiful, stupid, but very good-natured Samoyed – like Houdini dog he was given to occasional escapes, and led us a merry dance finding him again.
My favourite naughty dog of all is probably “the dog” (unnamed) in Adrian Mole. He is sick, he eats model ships, he throws up, he jumps on policemen, he runs away to Grandma’s, he licks his stitches, he is scared of alsations, he gets concrete stuck in his paws – he is thoroughly delightful. Who wouldn't fall for a dog like that?
Long may canines rule in children's fiction: may their barks never grow faint!
Check out Emma Barnes's web-site
Wolfie is published in August 2012 and Emma will be talking about it at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.