5 Middle Grade Books to Read on National Dog Day

Today is the greatest of all days – National Dog Day! In celebration of man’s (and woman’s) best friend, I thought it would be fitting to highlight five great books that feature beloved canine companions. I loved these stories as a kid and have very fond recollections of reading them over and over again.

My dog Bella reading a book for National Dog Day

My dog Bella wondering why I’m interrupting her book

1. Old Yeller by Fred Gipson: Confession time: I was actually obsessed with the movie adaptation of Old Yeller long before I ever realized there was a book. It also had the distinction of being the first movie to ever make me cry. Although both the book and movie will break your heart, you won’t be able to help loving the titular “ugly yeller dog” for his bravery and loyalty.

2. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: Of all the books on this list, I’d say Rawls’ best encompasses the friendship and joy that comes from having a dog – or in this case, two. Set in the Ozarks, the story follows a young boy named Billy whose dearest wish is to save enough money to buy two coonhound puppies. He trains them as hunting dogs, and together the trio enjoy many ramblings and adventures.

3. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: The sheer imaginativeness of this book makes it perfect for any fantasy lover. When a young boy named Milo finds a magical tollbooth in his room, he climbs in and is transported to a variety of magical worlds, where he encounters all sorts of whimsical creatures. My favorite of these is Tock, a “watchdog” who has an enormous clock built into his torso and whose job is to police people to make sure they aren’t wasting time.

4. The Howliday Inn by James Howe: Howliday Inn is one of those delightful books that’s written for kids but is equally entertaining to adults. I absolutely loved its humor and clever references, and I was especially fond of Harold, the book’s sheepdog protagonist. When Harold and his feline friend Chester are left at a kennel while their human family’s away on vacation, the duo sets out on an investigation to get to the bottom of strange noises and mysterious disappearances of the kennel’s other inhabitants.

My dog Maya reading a book for National Dog Day

My dog Maya deep in literary thought

5. Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary: My memory of this story’s a little fuzzy, as I haven’t read it in about 20 years; however, I remember having a lot of fun with it. The book is about a boy named Henry who’s trying to prove to his father that he’s well-behaved and responsible enough to be taken along on a big fishing trip. Unfortunately, staying out of trouble isn’t so easy when you’re surrounded by rambunctious neighbor kids and have an adventurous dog, Ribsy, to try to keep in line.

Bonus: How Fletcher Was Hatched by Wende Devlin: Although this is more of a children’s story than a Middle Grade read, it was my favorite dog book as a little girl. Devlin’s kooky picture book features a hound dog who decides to capture the attention of his distracted owner by getting his beaver friend to build a giant egg that he can hatch out of. It’s totally crazy and totally fun, and I read it non-stop in elementary school.

I’d love to hear from you – what dog books did you love as a kid? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

10 Fictional Relatives to Spend Thanksgiving With

10 Fictional Relatives to Spend Thanksgiving WithHappy Thanksgiving, everybody! For those of us living in the U.S., today’s the day we take time to reflect on the things we’re grateful for. This usually involves gathering together with our family members and gorging ourselves on turkey, stuffing, and green bean casserole until we came barely move.

In my experience, the pleasantness of Thanksgiving has a lot to do with how you get along with your family. Given the amount of time you’ll likely be spending with them around the dinner table, the holiday can either be a lot of fun, or a lot of trouble. I’m blessed with great relatives, including awesome in-laws, but I’ve heard stories of holidays where drama, awkwardness, and family feuds reign. If you’re one of those folks whose family feasts leave something to be desired, don’t despair! I’ve put together a list of superior new relatives you can spend Thanksgiving with, at least in the pages of a book.

The Parents

Book cover for What You Left Behind by Jessica VerdiMom: As far as parents go, Ryden’s mother in What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi is pretty fantastic. Ryden’s a teen dad who’s grieving for his late girlfriend and trying to raise a baby on his own, and his mom is the pillar of strength that keeps him together. She’s a strong woman who’s super loving and supportive, and even though she helps Ryden she also sets clear boundaries for what she will and won’t do so he learns to take responsibility for his own life. .

Book cover for Unspoken by Sarah Rees BrennanDad: Jon Glass, Kami’s dad in The Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan, is my favorite fictional father. Jon is just your regular guy, but he bravely steps up to protect his family and defend his town when needed. Not only is Jon courageous, he’s absolutely hilarious as well. He’s got a ton of humorously snappy one-liners, and his banter with Kami and her friends is funny enough to make me giggle-snort.

The Siblings

Book cover for How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten MillerBrother: I always thought it’d be neat to have a cool older brother to alternately tease and look after me. If I had to choose the ultimate big bro, it would be Flick from Kristen Miller’s novel How to Lead a Life of Crime. At heart he’s a good guy, one who’s willing to stick his neck out to help people, but he’s also a big, tough hard-ass who has no problem beating the crap out of people if they deserve it. I’m pretty sure he’d be a lot of fun as a sibling, with the added benefit of being able to scare the hell out of bullies or douchey exes if need be.

Book cover for Bloody Jack by L. A. MeyerSister: As my all-time favorite literary heroine, Jacky Faber, from L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series, is my obvious pick for fictional sister. No one knows how to have a good time like Jacky – she’s adventurous and daring, always making friends and getting into trouble. I can imagine her deflecting potential familial tension by performing one of her song-and-dance routines (probably on top of the table) or telling tales of her exploits at sea .

The Grandparents

Book cover for The One Thing by Marci Lyn CurtisGrandpa: Gramps from The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis is a marvelously grouchy, cantankerous, but ultimately loving grandfather, and I think he’d make a great addition to any Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, he’d probably grumble about “kids today” and make comments under his breath about the new cranberry sauce recipe your mother experimented with this year, but you’d know that underneath all the grouchiness, he still loves his family very much.

Book cover for A Long Way From Chicago by Richard PeckGrandma: Grandma Dowdel, from A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck, is tough, gruff, and not afraid to play tricks on people in order to get her way or teach someone a lesson. She stretches the truth, wields a shotgun…and is ultimately a big softie, though she’d never admit it. She’s always doing her best to help people, even if it means employing stealth and bending the law to do so. She’s definitely someone I’d want by my side on Thanksgiving.

The Extended Family

Book cover for The Trolls by Polly HorvathAunt: As a kid I loved reading The Trolls by Polly Horvath, mostly due to the character of Aunt Sally. Eccentric, magnanimous, and sporting a magnificent beehive hairdo, there’s never a dull moment when Aunt Sally’s around. She has a way of making of making the ordinary extraordinary, and best of all, she tells the most exceptional stories.

Book cover for The Princess Bride by William GoldmanUncle: We’ve all got that one uncle who has a little too much to drink at family gatherings and starts reminiscing about his glory days. What better than for that uncle to be Inigo Montoya from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride? I feel like he’d be a blast, recounting stories from the good old days to his nieces and nephews for the millionth time (“And then I said to the six-fingered man, ‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!’”) and knocking over lamps in the family room while re-enacting one of his epic sword fights.

Book cover for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. RowlingCousins: What family dinner wouldn’t be improved with two pranksters like Fred and George Weasley, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, as your cousins? Think of all the hilarity they could cause, slipping Fainting Fancies into the turkey, setting off Wildfire Whiz-Bangs during dessert, or releasing magical creatures into the dining room. Sure, the rest of the family might get a little peeved by their antics, but at least you’d know your holidays would never be dull.

There you have it – my hand-picked list of relatives to share Thanksgiving with! Which literary relatives do you wish you could invite over for the holidays? Let me know in the comments!