We don’t have any pets. It’s not through any lack of nagging on my kids’ part. It’s really because I think I have enough poo to deal with in nappies without having to worry about what’s on my back lawn. Of course this doesn’t compute with my kids, who regularly ask when we are getting a dog.
I recently came across two very sweet stories about pets that are quite different to the standard ‘kids and animals’ formula. Both stories tackle bigger concepts with gentle humour and characters that I think children can identify with.
The first is Wanted: The Perfect Pet by Fiona Roberton. It’s a funny story about a boy, Henry, who wants a dog, and a duck that wants an owner (so he pretends to be a dog).
Dogs can do all sorts of things and, as Henry says, “It is common knowledge that a dog is The Perfect Pet for a boy.” However it is a lonely duck that answers Henry’s advertisement for the perfect pet. The duck gives himself a doggy makeover (with a pair of old socks, an egg box and some string) and sets off to meet Henry. Of course Henry quickly discovers that his new ‘dog’ can’t do all the things he expected but he does learn that ducks have some interesting and special qualities of their own (such as “…nest building skills excellent for building forts and camps and tree houses and so on.” )
It’s a funny story and the quirky illustrations add to the humour.
The second book, The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness by Colin Thompson is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful stories I have read in a long time. It is about a little boy, George, who is really quite lonely. Each week George visits the dog shelter and spends time by the last cage “…where the dogs no one wanted went for a final week before their journey to heaven. George felt at home there.”
So it begins as a rather dark story and the concept of animal shelters and animals being put down may be unfamiliar to many children. But from there George meets a three-legged dog named Jeremy and discovers that when it comes to love, it’s quality not quantity that counts. “..Jeremy learnt a whole new vocabulary, full of words like ‘cushion’ and ‘cuddle’. George’s world was filled with words he had heard but never experienced before, like…’not being on your own’.”
The book is aptly titled as this story is about happiness and sadness on many levels (but the ending is ultimately very happy) and it is the first book in a long time that has left my children quietly reflective.