Teaching kids about the responsibilities and pragmatic issues of pet ownership is admittedly less fun than snuggling a puppy. But these three books tackle serious issues of routine care, adoption, and pet death in a fun and upbeat fashion!
If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki VanSickle, illustrations by Cale Atkinson, is a hilarious and endearing examination of the pros and cons to pet ownership. Each of the examined pets are mythological, making it a particularly fun and educational read. But all of the cons are grounded in reality (e.g., need for exercise, potential for property damage, grooming burden). First person narration by a child removes the authoritative adult voice, and leaves the child to assume all responsibility for pet care. The imagined delights of pet ownership speak directly to childhood fantasies, as does the imagined distaste for hours of manual labor and care for the non-cuddly aspects. Essentially, it’s the pragmatic parents’ dream book to have on hand when having the “but you have to take care of it” conversation. In fact, that’s why we own it!
Found Dogs by Erica Sirotich is a playful and adorable ode to pet adoption couched in a counting primer. On the way up to ten, it features varieties of dogs (e.g. big, small, sleek, fluffy) with illustrations so endearing, my kids literally snuggle the book. It then reverses the count, and pairs each dog with an owner. The owners come in all sizes, shapes, colors, ages, and ability, just like the dogs. There’s a dog for every person, and a person for every dog with illustrations perfectly sized for counting with young toddlers. Best of all, the dogs are fully grown rather than puppies, making it perfect for the implied “adopt, don’t shop” message. Bonus: The last spread of the book is a spotting page with each dog, each owner, numbers one through 10, and a sneaky cat! I love the sneaky cat!
Sally Goes to Heaven by Stephen Huneck is a sweet book that gently tackles the heartbreaking topic of pet death. We received this book from a dear friend after the death of our beloved, 14 year-old Labrador, Teddy Bear. It was the perfect gift because it gave us a framework to discuss his death during a time when grief made doing so a very difficult task. The book opens with a suffering Sally, unable to eat or do the things she enjoys, then shifts quickly to a Heaven full of doggie delights (unlimited petting, couches to sleep on, fields full of playmates, and many more). My daughter loves imagining all the fun things Teddy Bear is doing in Heaven, and her happiness in doing so is infectious. The book became an invaluable gift a year later when my mother died of ALS. When my mother became unable to walk or eat, my daughter quickly began recognizing the parallels with Sally’s story and understood that Grandma would be leaving us. She now imagines all the things Teddy Bear and Grandma are doing together. And let me tell you, they’re having a ball! Best of all, the book closes with an eye to the future and a message of enduring love from Sally to her family.