What’s Your Favorite Pet?

When we had a horse farm, one of the neighborhood kids to whom I was giving riding lessons, asked if I could only have one animal what would it be. I’m pretty sure she thought I’d say a horse, but I told her a dog. Horses are wonderful creatures and very near to my heart, but you can’t cuddle with them on the sofa or the bed. Cats are also good pets, but they don’t relate to humans the way dogs do. Plus, I’ve had dogs most of my life.

First my family had cocker spaniels, a beagle and a basset hound, and a standard poodle who was a wonderful retriever.

When my handsome devil and I got married we got the children a Llewellyn setter puppy from the pound. The kids named him Ashley, because he was English, and we all adored him, as did the kitten we adopted at the same time. He lived for fourteen years, accompanying us from Alabama to two different houses in Maryland and finally to the horse farm.

Our next dog, Jazz’s Double Dutch, was a beautiful chocolate-brown Labrador retriever. He was very smart and lived his eleven years to the fullest. He adored children, but was not fond of most other dogs.

Our last dog was a German Shorthair Pointer, named Dawn’s Border Patrol, but we called him Jake. He loved everybody and welcomed our new kitten with a tongue bath. But most importantly, he was a spectacular hunting dog.

So I thought I’d treat you to reviews of dog books.


First up is a picture book about a basset hound that lives on a ranch. Bassets have very mournful eyes and droopy ears. When they are puppies their ears are too long for their legs, so they frequently step on their ears. Or the ear tips end up dipping into the puppy’s feed bowl and then leave a trail when the dog is finished.

Charlie the Ranch Dog

Ree Drummond

Illustrated by Diane deGroat

Charlie-the-Bassett-Hound lives on a ranch with his friend and helper, Suzie-the-Jack-Russell-Terrier. Where Charlie’s ears almost drag the ground as he ambles about on his stubby legs, Suzie’s ears sit high on her head as she bounces around on her short legs. And paws; why Charlie’s are big to support his weight and long body, but Suzie’s are trim and give her more spring to her stride. Charlie forgives Suzie her flaws and tries to keep her out of trouble. Suzie can jump much better than Charlie, not to mention dig and run better. Charlie doesn’t hold that against her either. Charlie means to get up early to help with the chores, but Suzie beats him to the punch. The story continues telling of Charlie being a bit late for all of his chores, which Suzie does for him. The thing Charlie does best is eat his breakfast, especially if there is bacon involved. But in the end, Charlie does save the day—or at least the garden—by chasing the cows out. Children may not understand the tongue-in-cheek tone to this story, but they will like the pictures and the grown-ups will get a chuckle while reading it.

BIBLIO: 2011, Harper/HarperCollins Children’s Books/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-06-199655-9


Have you ever seen a Saint Bernard in person? They’re so big a small child could probably ride on one. Their coats are luxuriously thick, like a cushiony rug to cuddle with for a nap.

Dogs in the Dead of Night

Mary Pope Osborne

Number 46 in the “Magic Tree House: A Merlin Mission” series is about St. Bernards who rescue stranded travelers in Switzerland. Annie and Jack are tasked with finding a rare flower to help friends reverse a spell. So they go to their magic tree house and read the message their friends have left them: find a special yellow and white flower and live its meaning for an hour. The book they’re to use is about the Swiss Alps, in particular the Saint Bernard Pass. But when they get there, all they find is snow and mountains. Jack is sure they’ll never find the flower and to make matters worse they are caught in an avalanche. They are rescued by a Saint Bernard trained by a group of monks who breed the dogs. To repay the monks, Annie helps train an exuberant pup, Barry, and in the end the two children become Saint Bernard dogs for an hour by drinking the magic elixir they’d been given. This way they can find Barry who ran off after being scolded for destroying a book. They have a grand time as the dogs, find Barry and rescue a soldier from Napoléon Bonaparte’s army. While they’re dogs, they explain to Barry how he must behave, winning the gratitude of the monks. One of them gives Jack and Annie a dried yellow and white flower. They get home in time to be ready for school. A nice way to teach a little history to kids, this story is fast paced and entertaining.

BIBLIO: 2011, Random House Children’s Books/Random House, Inc., Ages 7 to 9, $12.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-0-375-86824-5


And finally we have a story about Great Pyrenees—another large breed good at rescuing people in the snow. In a neighboring town when I was growing, a family had such a dog. I remember one summer day riding with my older brother in the family car. We stopped at a stop sign and the next thing we knew a shaggy white head poked through Richard’s rolled down window to say hello. He still had all four feet planted on the ground. Another gentle giant.

White Fur Flying

Patricia MacLachlan

This is a charmer of a story about the power of dogs to help heal an emotionally wounded boy who moves in across a small field. But it’s also the story of the need to rescue and nurture abandoned animals—in this case Great Pyrenees, who come with mounds of fluffy white hair. At first the boy, Phillip, won’t speak to anyone, but soon he starts talking to the dogs and bonds with a newly rescued pup named Jack. When Jack runs away in the middle of a rainy night, Phillip goes off to find him. Zoë, the story’s narrator, knows where to look for both of them. Phyllis, the woman taking care of Phillip, panics and feels it’s all her fault that Phillip ran off.   Zoë does find Phillip and Jack asleep in a barn full of hay and falls asleep herself. When she awakes, Phillip is talking up a storm. Then Zoë’s mom comes in with the family’s dog and they all walk home together. Turns out Phyllis isn’t the prickly pear everyone thought her to be and even lets the dogs sleep on her beautiful velvet-covered sofa. The only quibble with the book is the setting. It is hard to tell how much property Zoë’s family owns, because they can see Phillip’s house across the field and stream quite clearly, but somewhere abutting Zoë’s property are cow and horse pastures. Still, this is such a lovely story, don’t let the setting keep you from reading it.

BIBLIO: 2014 (orig. 2013,) Margaret K, McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/ Simon & Schuster, Ages 7 to 9, $5.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-4424-2171-4

ISBN: 978-1-4424-2172-1

ISBN: 978-1-4424-2173-8


I’d love to hear what your favorite animal is. Is it a snake, or a lizard, or a frog, or a llama, or a cat or a dog? Thanks for reading my blog, Sarah.

Picture This

When I was young, ever so long ago, my mother would read stories to us before bed and sometimes she would give us a sweet to suck on. I remember her reading a book about Siamese cats while we sucked on translucent blue mint hard candies. (I’m not sure they’re even manufactured anymore.) For years every time I saw a Siamese cat, the taste of those mints would flood my mouth.

Among other books, she also read us Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows, not picture books, but full of wonderful illustrations. That is the early versions before Disney got his mitts on them. She also read from Robert Lewis Stephenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse. This also had beautiful illustrations. One of my favorite poems from that collection is “Whatever’s the Matter with Mary Jane?” The illustration is of a five or six-year-old girl throwing a hissy fit; stamping her feet and scowling a mighty scowl, while her nanny watches with surprise and bemusement. The poem is “Whatever’s the matter with Mary Jane? She hasn’t an ache. She hasn’t a pain. And we’re having lovely rice pudding for dinner again.” Not sure that’s what made me not like rice pudding, but something sure did. Mother’s introducing me to world of words of words and visual art has served me well all these years.

So this blog entry is about picture books. I highly recommend Emma Dodd’s picture books, especially I Don’t Want a Posh Dog, or Scotti Cohn’s well written non-fiction picture books, especially those illustrated by Susan Detwiller. The first of those was One Wolf Howls, which is primarily a counting and calendar book.

Let me know what picture books are memorable to you.


The first book on my list for this week is quite amusing and the illustrations really enhance the images.


Ella Kazoo will not Brush her Hair

Lee Fox

Illustrated by Jennifer Plecas

Ella has snarly, curly hair, which she does not like to have brushed. She throws away her hairbrush, hides in the cupboard, and roars at her mother “like a big, growly bear.” She whines and moans and howls. The next hairbrush her mother gets ends up hidden in various places, including under rocks in the garden. But Ella’s hair keeps growing and things get tangled up in it. Her hair grows down her back and along the floor and through the door. It tangles into everything and finally even Ella can stand it no more. Off to the hairdresser they go, who cuts off the tangles and tames the frizz. Now Ella brushes her hair without a fuss. Cute drawings and clever rhymes make this a story any child who’s had her scalp hurt when her hair is brushed will relate to. I liked the drawings of the hair with all the trash it’s picked up along the way.

BIBLIO: 2010 (orig. 2007,) Walker & Company, Ages 4 to 6, $15.99

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8027-8836-8

ISBN: 978-0-8027-8755-2


Next up is an anthropomorphic tale about an alligator’s wedding. Very silly, but with a sweet concept about getting along.


Alligator Wedding

Nancy Jewell

Illustrated by J. Rutland

The illustrations are what make this book. Mr. Alligator takes his bride on a warm summer night when the moon is bright. She is dressed in a gown of white moss and her head is crowned by a veil of cobweb. A turtle is the preacher and all the swamp critters gather round to witness and celebrate the wedding. Frogs and water rats and spiders and turtles sit happily by snakes and herons and lots of alligators to chow down on the wedding feast. Then they belch toasts to the new couple. The bride feeds her groom half the cake, served on the end of a long-handled rake. Soon the guests are dancing to tunes of the rock and roll band. They dance the Big Beast Boogie, the Reptile Romp, Gumbo Gator Gallop, and the Swampland Stomp. The bride’s bouquet is caught by a passing pelican, but no-one really cares. And when the honeymoon barge sinks under the weight of bride and groom, they shrug and swim off without it. I can see children, but more especially their parents, getting a kick out of this rhyming picture book, even though not all the rhymes are perfect.

BIBLIO: 2010, Henry Holt and Company, Ages 4 to 6, $16.99

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8050-6819-1


The last book is a non-fiction story of who eats what. It’s the kind of book that’s going make children squirm with the “eewies,” but want to read more.


What’s for Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World

Katherine B. Hauth

Illustrated by David Clark

Creatures eat other creatures or plants. Each has its place in the food chain: butterfly drinks plant nectar and spreads pollen before being eaten by a lizard, which is then swallowed by a snake which is, in turn, swallowed by a road runner. Each has done its part in keeping our planet humming. Even the ugly vulture has a vital role to play by cleaning dead animals’ carcasses. Don’t be grossed out or squirmy by these poems; just enjoy the rhymes and drawings as you learn about who eats what. Remember you also must eat to stay alive and healthy. The poems tell about various critters—some large and some small—and what they eat. Take the wood turtle, for instance, that stomps on the ground to make worms pop up, or the archer fish that squirts flying insects with water and catches them as they fall. There is additional information in the back. The drawings will keep you from getting too much of the heebie-jeebies.

BIBLIO: 2011, Charlesbridge Publishing, Ages 8 to 10, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-57091-471-3

ISBN: 978-1-57091-472-0



One last thing. I’m sorry to say I’ve been getting some spam comments on my blogs, so I’m going to start using a “robot detector” device to try to control the nasties out there who seem to have no other purpose in life than to annoy the rest of us.