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, art by Cale Atkinson

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!


Last week I got a hamster. My first and only pet. He mostly eats and sleeps and hides and gets his shavings wet.

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If I had a gryphon, I’d love each flashing feather. But she needs flying every day, regardless of the weather.


If I had a dragon with a temperamental snout, I’d need a fire extinguisher to put her sneezes out.


Kirin needs a field of grass at least an ocean wide. Jackalope needs sturdy reins for bumpy, jumpy rides.


Harpies are too screechy; Chupacabras like to bite. Fairies play too many tricks and kelpies hate the light. Basilisk is slippery; chimera likes to scratch. Mermaids brush their hair all day and sprites are hard to catch.


Perhaps a hamster’s not too bad. In fact, he’s rather sweet. I love his furry belly and his teeny tiny feet. He may not be a gryphon, or a creature from the sea, but I am his and he is mine and that’s enough for me.


Found Dogs by Erica Sirotich

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!


2 dogs, silver and slow. 3 dogs, quivering, shivering.


6 dogs, spotty, shiny. 7 dogs, quick and slick.


10 dogs, slobbering hounds.


5 dogs, smiling sweet. 4 dogs, wagging tails.


3 dogs, dancing feet. 2 dogs, ready to play.


1 dog, on her way.


Now they’re family! Found dogs.


Sally Goes to Heaven by Stephen Huneck

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.


She walks slowly over to her food dish to have breakfast. After a bite or two, Sally realizes she is not hungry. Sally spends the rest of the day lying in the sun.


The next morning, Sally wakes up in heaven.


The first thing she notices is that her aches are gone. She runs in circles really fast. No pain at all! She’s never felt so good. Sally wishes she could comfort her family and friends and let them know her pain is gone.


Also missing are animal shelters. Every dog has a home. There are dogs playing, running, and chasing one another everywhere Sally looks.


The grass is as soft as a carpet. Sally can pounce and bounce on the rubbery sidewalk.


In heaven. Frisbees fill the sky! Someone is always ready to throw a ball or toss a stick.


A dog who will love them and take care of them just like Sally did. And you know what? Sally’s wish was heard and granted. But that is a whole new story.