Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dog Novels for Kids

A curious phenomenon of the thirties, forties, and fifties was the proliferation of dog novels for kids or rather what would be called "young adults" these days. They may just have been a product of a more "country" time-- they were utterly un- pc, generally very good in natural history, and dealt forthrightly with issues of life and death. I read every one I could get my hands on.

I hadn't thought of them in years when Patrick Porter, flower grower, dog and pigeon man, and too- infrequent writer, asked our small pigeon group about a particular childhood volume. We couldn't quite find that one but (much younger but with a rural Maine background) climatologist Jacob Sewell and I both suddenly began to remember an amazing variety.

Patrick began:

"Does anyone remember a book from the early seventies [late for this "genre"--SB]about a large dog dumped from a family vehicle and then fends for itself somewhere in the northern states (Minnesota or something)? I think it was titled "The Big Dog". Dog gets dumped, dog gets blamed for sheep kills, boy finds and befriends dog and both are redeemed. It was a pleasure to read, and as my children struggle with literary interest, I thought I'd shove it at them. They are interested in the subject matter.

"In this book, wolves are referred to as "Manitoba Cruisers".

Jake replied:

"I have to admit I don't. I don't know what age/reading demographic your children are in but if dog/animal stories are up their alley you could always push the Jim Kjelgaard books (Big Red, Outlaw Red, Stormy, Lion Hound etc.). All about dogs. The main core about Irish Setters and bird hunting, but others on a lion hunting hound, trapping a fox, a sled dog, a stray retriever, others I may be missing. All good books. As you are a setter (English) man there are two older books one title "Wild Hunter" about an English Setter spotted hunting pheasant wild in a farm field. Boy buys her from farmer (who used her to herd cows), trains her into gun dog, she is shot by a buffoon and becomes gun shy. Saves boy from some mishap and in process overcomes her fear of guns. Another book titled "Raff" and maybe with the subtitle of "Story of an English Setter" that is also about bird hunting with, obviously, English Setters. On bird hunting there is also "Prince Champion Cocker" about a runt, golden cocker purchased as a pet, turns out to have great hunting drive and becomes a field trial champion.

"I was also (still am) a fan of any of Louis L'Amour's books as a kid. Max Brand also wrote some good books, not as big a fan of his traditional westerns which tend to be very cookie cutter dime novel, but he also salted things through with books on, or related more to animals that I recall really liking. One titled "Sled Dog Man" or something about a guy who lives in AK and is obsessed with creating the perfect sled dog via breed crossing. The protagonist gets roped in as his employee on a bet/dare and finds that he has produced the perfect sled dog, but they are untractable killers. Protagonist tames dogs and creates finest sled team ever. I think he also wrote one about an orphan kid who grows up as a mountain man with a "pet" bear. There are also several books, names escape me, about sight hounds (wolf/deer hounds usually) in the west.

"Hope that helps. I'm ready to go hide out in a sunny corner with a stack of childhood nostalgia."

Then me:

"Those are all ones I was thinking of but written in the thirties, forties,
fifties (last is when I read them). Also many herding collie ones, mostly
set in Scotland-- Bob, Son of Battle; Beth, a Sheep Dog by Ernest Lewis--
this also has falconry and lurchers!--I actually still have a copy.) Awol,
about a Doberman who was in the Pacific war-- I think this was a series. A
book with Lady in the title about a basenji who was also a bird dog--!"

Finally Jake again:

"You are right, I read the Basenji one too -- I believe they lived in the swamp? Also the herding collies, though I wasn't as fond of those books as they tended to be longish and the plot lines run together. But I recall Bob, Son of Battle. And one about "Lad". I forgot in the "hound" genre -- The obvious classic, "Where the Red Fern Grows". Also 'Bristleface" about a stray fox hound with a bristly face who turned out to be a rare breed of fox hound, and a good one. Another book, maybe with the word Ghost in the title, that was about fox hounds. A farm with a history of good fox hounds. Couple of kids train up a young dog and set him out with the dogs the old timers run (every night, just sit by the fire and let the dogs run). The dog has a beautiful voice but the kids keep it all under wraps. They sneak out there on the train and in the end the dog gets killed by the train, but a great book."

Stirred up by all this I searched the Intarwebz for an example and ended up buying this splendid copy, complete with dj, of Jim Kjelgaard's 1956 Desert Dog, about an escaped racing greyhound in Arizona.

REMARKABLY impossible dj photos for today: author showing child a rifle!


Nothing like them around today but Donald McCaig's well- written adult dog novels, though their success suggests that urban publishers may be missing a market.

15 comments:

M.L. Miller said...

My school library had a large section of Kjelgaard books which I loved as a kid. Many and interesting wild animals, dogs, frequent hunting and trapping--how could you go wrong. Favorites were Desert Dog, Lion Hound and Haunt Fox, about a particularly elusive fox and a boy's attempt to catch it. There was also one that was a cat novel (Swamp Cat), about a black cat on a muskrat farm (!).

I also loved the A.R. Harding books, little old books still published by the publisher of Fur-Fish-Game. They were outdated and far from literary masterpieces but covered fascinating ground for a nature- and hunting-obsessed kid. There were books on making deadfalls, wolf trapping, ferrets, fur farming and other cool (to me alone, judging from librarian reaction) topics.

I wonder if those books are even on the library shelves any more.

Reid Farmer said...

Well wouldn't you know - you guys all fondly remember Kjelgaard's dog books and his only book I remember reading is "Fire-Hunter" about a prehistoric man who invents the bow and arrow.

Steve Bodio said...

Somehow I don't find that surprising (;-)

He was prolific-- I forgot Hi Jolly (Haji Ali) about the Arab kid who came over with the Army camels (more or less a true story).

mdmnm said...

Made a mistake and posted up above one comment. Like m.l. miller, I found quite a few Kjelgaard's in the school library. Found quite a few at home, too, as my mom was a fan. Beautiful copy of Desert Dog! "Big Red" was an often re-read favorite of mine. Hunting grouse, running a trap line, hunting deer, training a bird dog- very un-pc!

Reid- "Fire Hunter" has been expanded by science fiction author David Drake and reissued as "The Hunter Returns". Both publisher Jim Baen and author Drake were Kjelgaard fans. See http://david-drake.com/hunter.html

Steve: I remember reading "Hi Jolly" now that you mention it- that was a library book that I haven't thought of in a long time. Great books.

hb said...

You know, it's not quite the same genre as you mention here, but I enjoyed as a child reading and having read to me several of Hal Borland's books. The Dog Who Came to Stay and High, Wide, and Lonesome helped teach this suburban boy (and son of a farmer's son) something about dogs and death. And, of course, they're recommended on their other merits.

Matt Mullenix said...

I think Desert Dog and Big Red must be ones I remember from childhood--- DD is about the guy who picks up a track greyhound and hunts with it? I remember that scene well but must have been 8 or so when I read it. Hmmmm, I have whippets today. Funny. :-)

And does Big Red open with a scene about a setter getting whippet (but holding his own) against three town dogs? Boy saves dog, makes friend for life? If so, that scene has stuck with me a long time.

Matt Mullenix said...

I meant "getting whipped" in above comment.

("Getting whippet" is what I did!)

M.L. Miller said...

I thought Desert Dog was turned loose in the desert, had to learn to survive as a wild animal and eventually formed a motley pack with other feral dogs of various breeds.

Last night I remembered the bloodhounds novels; I think they had "trouble" in the titles. A Nose for Trouble, Trailing Trouble, something like that.

And one about a beaver: Chip, The Dam Builder.

It all becomes so clear why I was considered strange in school.

mdmnm said...

Matt Mullenix-
"Big Red" opens with a boy who lives with his father in a cabin back in the woods on a rich man's estate (on sufferance) rescuing a red setter who'd run away from an abusive trainer, then taking over the training of the dog. I don't recall one where the setter is getting beat up by the town dogs, but it might be Outlaw Red or something like it.

Steve Bodio said...

Matt Miller-- that is how Desert starts. Later he rescues the human hero from the bad dogs..

"It all becomes so clear why I was considered strange in school."

I think we ALL were (;-) But were there more of us "then"?

Matt Mullenix said...

Well someone please tell me which books I actually remember! :-)

BigSwifty said...

Does anyone remember a children's novel from the mid 1970's simply titled "Dog!"?? I remember getting this book as a child through Scholastic Books in elementary school. From what I remember it was about a lonely boy who finds a stray dog and nurses it back to health and hides it in an old abondoned car in the woods because his parents won't let him have a dog in the house. I loved this book as a child and would love to know the author and whether or not it's in print any more. Thanks!

Alec said...

i read that book too, with the dog in the car! i think it is somewhere at my parent's house, but i can't remember the author

Betsy said...

I believe the book your friend was looking for is called "Big Mutt" it is by John Reese.

The main human character is a boy named Dwight. The wolves are called Saskatchewan cruisers. It was printed in 1965 or copyrighted then.

FolsomMike said...

Jake said:

"Max Brand also wrote some good books, not as big a fan of his traditional westerns which tend to be very cookie cutter dime novel, but he also salted things through with books on, or related more to animals that I recall really liking. One titled "Sled Dog Man" or something about a guy who lives in AK and is obsessed with creating the perfect sled dog via breed crossing. The protagonist gets roped in as his employee on a bet/dare and finds that he has produced the perfect sled dog, but they are untractable killers. Protagonist tames dogs and creates finest sled team ever."

I read this book as a boy and want my sons to read it now. I can't find a Max Brand book by the name "Sled Dog Man" or anything similar by any author. Can anyone help me track down this book?