Oh look, there’s more. In today’s post we’ll cover Dead Dog books from the mid-’50’s through the ’70’s. In the final post I’ll have some general comments about WHAT THE HELL WERE THESE ADULTS THINKING.
Puppy is abused by humans, runs away and suffers some more, finally finds a kind human who it learns to not be afraid of. A religious allegory. (De Jong was a Calvinist.) De Jong wrote several other books in this vein:
Along Came a Dog (1958): A stray dog is repeatedly driven away by a farmer, until he realizes it’s protecting the chickens. The dog’s favorite chicken is brutalized by the other chickens, and loses its feet to frostbite.
The Last Little Cat (1961): An unwanted kitten suffers until it finds a home where someone will love it.
A Horse Came Running (1970): Mark, son of midwestern farmers, has to fend for himself after a tornado. His favorite horse dies. Mark learns about being a man.
(De Jong is better known as the author of Wheel on the School, 1954, and The House of Sixty Fathers, 1956.)
Travis, son of Texas farmers, gradually becomes attached to a stray dog that has come to stay. Old Yeller repeatedly saves family members from attacking bears, hogs, and other deadly threats. When he saves the family from a rabid wolf, Old Yeller is bitten, and Travis has to kill him. Travis gets a new puppy.
Based on a real event, a Nicoleño girl is accidentally abandoned on an island off the California coast when her people leave. Her younger brother is with her but he soon dies. She befriends a wild dog, who dies. She lives alone for almost 20 years, until she is found and brought to the mainland.
I have a particular grudge against this book, because it is set on one of the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, so the book was heavily pushed in schools in Santa Barbara, where I grew up.
Billy, son of Ozark farmers, buys two coonhounds. Many raccoons meet grisly ends. Eventually the hounds fight a mountain lion to save Billy. One dog’s guts are torn out, and the other dog dies of grief. Billy learns about being a man.
Two dogs and a cat leave their pet-sitters to travel home, suffering over a long journey of hundreds of miles, because that’s what loyal animals do. Burnford had obviously read Lassie or Lad or both. Contrary to the rumors in my elementary school, this was not based on a true story. Dogs don’t actually do that.
An African-American boy (nobody has a name except the dog), son of share-croppers, loses his dog on the night his father is imprisoned. The boy searches for the dog, only finding the dog’s torn-off ear. The dog turns up, badly mangled. Then the boy searches for his father, only finding a kindly schoolteacher who offers to teach him to read. The father turns up, badly mangled. The father dies in a hunting accident. The dog dies of grief. The boy learns to read.
Miyax/Julie, daughter of a traditional Eskimo hunter, ends up living in town in an arranged marriage after her father disappears. She runs away to live with wolves. Her favorite wolf is shot by a hunter from a plane. She finds out her father is still alive, but he has abandoned traditional ways and now hunts . . . from . . . planes . . . She runs away again, but then her favorite bird dies of cold. She returns to human civilization.
Robert, son of Vermont Shaker farmers, is given a piglet, which he names and raises. Absurdly gruesome scenes of farm life ensue. Robert’s father kills the pig. The father dies. Robert learns about being a man.
(Peck has claimed the book is based on his own childhood, but many of the details about Shaker life and animal husbandry are incorrect.)
Willy, grandson of a Wyoming potato farmer, enters a dogsled race with his beloved dog Searchlight, determined to win the prize money so that his ailing grandfather can pay the tax collector. Near the finish line, Searchlight dies of heart failure, because she’s been trying so hard. Because that’s what loyal animals do. Willy carries Searchlight in his arms over the finish line. (Bonus: the titular Stone Fox, a silent, grim, Native American dog-racer, refuses to pass Willy or to let anyone else pass him as he carries Searchlight over the finish line. Because that’s what Native Americans do for white boys.)
Stay tuned for the post-mortem!