This Valentine’s Day, because my husband needed to be away, my dog was my date. That evening she and I took a walk, had dinner and lounged on the couch together. I read while she dozed and snored. In other words, we had a perfect evening. This made me think that in this month of love, I’d like to honor our canine friends who devote themselves to us so unconditionally.
Below are several YA novels (and one adult novel well-suited to teens), some in print and some in graphic format, in which canines play a large part. They may be the main character’s best friend or arch enemy, or even the story’s protagonist. I’ve taken the liberty of including a few books with wolves. I’m hoping you’ll agree that the probable common ancestry of wolves and dogs — and also just the fact that these “wolf” novels are pretty great — justifies the inclusion of these works.
This is a fictionalized account of Laika, the Samoyed-husky who in November 1957 became the first sentient being to leave Earth’s orbit, on the Sputnik II satellite. A dog who had survived on the streets of Russia, she was taken by scientists in order to further their space program, her life knowingly sacrificed. This is a powerful and poignant graphic novel which shows how politics can generate intense pressure on scientists to be first in their field. (younger teen graphic novel)
This graphic novel turns the story of The Three Little Pigs on its head. In this version, BB Wolf is a farmer and blues musician in the Mississippi Delta in the 1920s. When the pigs decide that they’re going to take his land, BB Wolf strikes back in revenge. There are parallels here to Jim Crow racial segregation and oppression and also to the life of the real Barnabus Benjamin Wolf, who influenced American Blues music and was executed for murder. (older teen graphic novel)
In this fantasy novel for adults, twelve-year-old David, in search of his late mother, enters an alternate world of fairy tale characters and frightening creatures. One of the David’s principal foes there is Leroi, who is a half-human wolf, the son of Little Red Riding Hood. Leroi is plotting to take over the kingdom in which David finds himself. If David ever wants to make it home to his family and town in England, he must reach the king in time to foil Leroi’s plans. (adult fiction)
Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata
Based on Kadohata’s thorough research into the U.S. Army’s canine program, Cracker! is the story of a German shepherd of the same name who becomes an Army booby-trap-finding and ambush-detecting dog in Vietnam in the 1960s. Chapters are told from the alternating viewpoints of Cracker and her handler, Rick. At one point, the two become separated, prompting Cracker to initiate an arduous journey to find her best friend. (younger teen fiction)
Last Chance by Norah McClintock
The first of a mystery series, this novel begins the story of Robyn Hunter, a high school student who is volunteering at an animal shelter as punishment for breaking a window during an animal rights protest. In this job she must confront her phobia of dogs, stemming from an attack by a German shepherd when she was a child. Also mandated to volunteer is Nick, Robyn’s former middle school classmate who has been in some trouble with the law. Robyn begins to think that Nick may be innocent of the violent crime of which he is currently accused. (older teen fiction)
Edge of Nowhere by John E. Smelcer
Smelcer, an archaeologist, anthropologist, Ahtna tribal member and a writer in both English and Inuit, knows the Alaskan setting of this novel very well. He writes with authority about part-Native American sixteen-year-old Seth, who is swept overboard from his dad’s salmon-fishing boat, along with his golden retriever, Tucker. Seth and Tucker must survive as they swim between and traverse a chain of islands, trying to find their way back home. (younger teen fiction)
This nearly wordless graphic novel tells the story of a dog and the robot which he builds to fulfill his need for companionship. After a fun day together at the library and movie theater, they end up at the beach, where the robot reluctantly begins playing in the water. He unfortunately rusts as a result and, because he then can’t move, the dog leaves him on the beach. The two then begin separate lives with, needless to say, very different possibilities. This story encompasses many themes, including guilt, the quest for freedom, friendship, loss and making the best of life. (younger teen graphic novel)
Dust City by Robert Paul Weston
In this fantasy/mystery, Henry Whelp is a teenage wolf who is one of many animals of human size and intelligence. Henry tries to clear his dad of the charge of killing Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. Through its focus on “real” and synthetic fairy dust, this novel demonstrates the hold of mind-altering drugs on society and the havoc that this wreaks. (younger teen fiction)
– Anna Dalin, currently reading Nantucket Red by Leila Howland