Children and dogs are a common occurrence, and yet when a young Black girl about 8 or 9 came into my store Afriware Books, Co asking for a book with dogs on it, I didn’t realize that what should have been a trivial request would be such a challenge to find. There were tons of books with Lassie, and Spot, but they were shown with white children. I didn’t have to ask when I looked into her eyes whether she wanted to see a reflection of herself on the pages. I immediately took up the challenge to locate books with dogs that featured Black children. I chuckled to myself both the simplicity and the profundity of the request because on first thought it should be easy to fulfill. But after a quick search online, I found it to be more than a notion. The curated book list presented below is the result of this request. The good news is that there were some books found as early as 2005. The unfortunate news is that there was only one Black author in the bunch. A glaring sign that growth is sorely needed in this area especially given that dogs are supposed to be man’s best friends, and that should also go for the Black man, woman, and child.
BOOKS ABOUT DOGS WITH BLACK CHARACTERS
Sounder may be the most famous dog showcased with African Americans in the 1972 film “Sounder” starring the late great Cicely Tyson and Paul Windfield. https://youtu.be/GMD5Pg-IrTk In the opening scene Sounder chases a racoon in the woods and across the water. Though the racoon gets away, the scene shows the reliance on the hound dog’s hunting skills in providing food for the family. The dog is an intricate part of the family; he’s a confidant and a co-worker. When I first saw the film many moons ago, I didn’t realize that the woman Cicely Tyson did laundry for gave her son the book “The Three Musketeers,” which I’ve since learned was written by a Black man Alexandre Dumas, but I digress. Sounds like the makings for another blog post.
There are seven books in the King & Kayla series with Kayla who is Black. The other characters are non-Black. The author Dori Hillestad Butler was the winner of the 2018 Theodor Geisel Award for the series. The Geisel Award is a part of the American Library Association. The latest in the series was just released in March of 2021. Number eight in the series is scheduled to release next year.
The “Ranger in Time” series does not have all Black characters, but #3, #8 and #10 do. A few in the series have Asian characters as well. This is commendable that the series is open to having a more compressive representation of ethnicities.
“Mister and Lady Day” is a book about the great Lady Billie Holiday’s love of her favorite dog “Mister,” a bull dog. It’s reported that she had several dogs including a great dane, chiwawa, beagle and more.
“Please Puppy Please” by Spike Lee has become a classic. I recall being surprised and elated to find out that a celebrity decided to delve into the wonderful world of publishing a book. The illustrations by Kadir Nelson who is one of the best in the industry.
The “Lulu” series was released in 2012 and actually has many animals featured in it. Issue #2 has a dog, but #1 is a duck. Each release is different. There are 6 in the series which includes a hedgehog, cat, rabbit, and hamster. The last release came out in 2016.
Of the curated list shared, it is unfortunate that only two of the authors featured are Black and that was Spike Lee and Ziggy Marley. Spike Lee’s book was released in 2005, and how interesting that it would be the earliest book about dogs with Black characters. This means there is tremendous room for growth and hopefully someone reading this blog will be inspired to add to this genre. Ziggy Marley’s children’s book is the newest title to gain entry. Ziggy Marley, one of the son’s of the great Bob Marley wrote a book in tribute to his dog. It’s a cute song you can listen to called, "My Dog Romeo."
When my parents gifted me with a “Cuddly Dudley” stuffed doggy as a child, little did I know that as an adult I’d have my own dog “Hannibal,” named after the great African warrior King. I wrote about warrior Hannibal in another post called, “Was Hannibal Black?” Our dog Hannibal was my personal protector. He was a Boxer Mastiff mix and filled with fire in his belly. He had a fierce bark that would terrify neighbors and passers by. Occasionally I’d take him with me to the store and no one dared even look in the window when he did. He had a way of always knowing when to console. The day always ended on a high note when he would eagerly greet me as soon as I walked through the door coming in at all hours of the night.
The special bond we have with our four legged friends though commonly experienced in our homes should be reflected in literature. A simple request out of the mouths of babes can be a catalyst to change the world. We have every right to be portrayed wherever our imaginations will take us and that certainly includes the common occurrence of with our beloved animals.
As always, I appreciate that you have read through this blog post. I hope that you’ve become curious to seek out books with Black people doing everyday human activities. Though it may seem a small detail, it could make a big difference especially for our children. We ask that you consider purchasing your books from our Black owned business, Afriware Books, Co. If there is a title you’d like to purchase that is not mentioned here, or could not be found on the website, feel free to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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