The post-pandemic era has put a lot of families somewhere on the dog stage in their lives. Let me explain.

You may be a family that only likes looking at pictures of dogs, so you are then stuck at the nascent stage. Or you could be in the sweet teen years when you are thinking of bringing a dog home. Or maybe you are a veteran and have had multiple dogs come and go as part of your life.

As a family, we are at a pretty good place in the dog stage ourselves. We are proud pet parents to a Golden Lab for 11 years now, we actively help strays by being kind to them, we read and watch anything that has dogs in starring (or sidekick!) roles, and we are available to help convert anyone into dog-lovers.

The Book of Dog (though not a children’s book) – a brilliant compilation of essays on love, loss, and living with a dog written by prominent dog-lovers and compiled by Hemali Sodhi – is a must-buy for a person at any dog stage. As I read that book, sometimes laughing out loud and other times a simpering mess, I wondered if my children could share my reading experience through books written for them. You can only imagine my glee at having discovered that Indian children’s literature was exploding with books on dogs that crisscross the entire gamut from strays to pampered pets. Sample these.

Canine friends in books

There is a panel in Rajiv Eipe’s Dugga (Pratham Books) that shows a three-legged stray dog – Dugga with his tongue out and a huge smile on his face looking ahead to his bright future – one filled with food, friends, and plenty of flies to bark at. Dugga’s story will move you to tears and make you cheer loudly as he fights back from adversity. Playing with colourful and monochromatic panels, writer/illustrator Rajiv Eipe sets us up to fall in love with a carefree Dugga and then makes you think about your behaviour towards stray animals and the need to pay heed to them.

In the book, Dugga finds happiness, but in reality, he has found a lot more than that! This wondrous wordless picture book scooped up numerous coveted children’s lit awards this year including AttaGalatta and BK Awards! Attaboy, Dugga!

In Richa Jha’s book Duster (PickleYolk Books), the eponymous dog behaves like a cat. He wouldn’t dig for bones or play fetch and he certainly was not about to announce an arrival. His human is fed up and yearns for the company of a dog. When Duster sees his human break down and cry, something changes in him. He drops his cat-like behaviour and does what dogs do best – goes over to comfort his human.

We, pet parents are guilty of anthropomorphising our fur babies and believe they understand our moods, troubles, and words. In turn, we feel we know exactly what our dog is trying to tell us with every bark and whimper. We convince ourselves we understand every tail-wag and snout-up like they were printed in a book. Duster will surprise you and keep you turning the page.

In A Dog called Shoo (Pratham Books), author Kavita Punniyamurthi tells a story too close to reality. We see a young boy getting bored of his pet puppy because the puppy can’t do any tricks. The father decides to abandon the puppy on a busy street. Instead of barking, the puppy waits and then waits some more. He slowly realises his humans aren’t coming back and learns to live on the street.

Wait! The book isn’t all sad. In a pure stroke of genius, author Punniyamurthi uses humour to keep kids engaged. The little puppy, hears the word, “Shoo! Shoo!” over and over and assumes that is his name. Again, there is a happy ending to this one, but not without subtly underlining the kind of behaviour we shouldn’t be teaching our kids.

Chitty: A Dog and her Forest Farm (Kalpavriksh) is a book that I would display on my coffee-table. Illustrations of Chitty in the Western Ghats under starry skies and amidst lush greenery fill the pages as author Serow and illustrator Rajiv Eipe tell the life story of Chitty – from the moment Serow brings her to her forest home to the time she lays her to rest 13 monsoons later. Yes, this is a tear-jerker of a book but one that has laid the foundation for so many meaningful conversations with children.

Dogs and doggie stories are not just fodder for children’s writers. Sahitya Akademi award winner Arupa Patangia Kalita wrote Taniya to share the memory of her beloved dog with countless others. Translated from Assamese, Taniya (Puffin Classic) is the story of a little dog that will have you chuckling out loud at her antics throughout the book. Kalita also invites us into her inner world and offers us a chance to see the landscape and social milieu of Assam through Taniya’s eyes. As expected, we are devastated in the final chapters. It’s lucky then, we have this book to remember Taniya by.

A dog character is never an idea. It starts as a memory and burrows its way into the story. Then it settles down comfortably in the middle of the plot and refuses to budge until enough attention has been showered on it. Author/illustrator Rajiv Eipe knows about this all too well. “There is something about the bond between a dog and a human that transcends the transactional, material relationship that may exist between the two. As fruity as it may sound, drawing them (dogs) is a way of knowing them, for me.”

Isn’t that the best way to know and remember your best friend?