Madeline Finn and the Library Dog, by Lisa Papp

madeline-finnMadeline does not like to read—especially out loud— and even though she gets heart stickers from her teacher that say “Keep Trying,” she really wants a star sticker. When her mother takes her to the public library on Saturday, the librarian, Mrs. Dimple (best children’s librarian name ever), introduces her to Bonnie, a gigantic, white reading dog. Bonnie never giggles when Madeline makes mistakes, as her classmates do, and whenever Madeline looks up from her book, Bonnie’s gentle eyes are always patient and kind. It takes a while, but Madeline achieves her sticker goal at last.

I love reading dogs. If you are not aware of this type of service animal, many libraries have regular visits from dogs who are specially trained to sit quietly and listen to kids read. This is a win/win arrangement at its best: the child gets a completely non-judgmental listener, and the dog gets hours of attention from children. The little readers benefit greatly from this service, not only in their reading skills, but also in their confidence and self-esteem.

Ms. Papp’s artwork in this picture book is soft and sweet, with backgrounds in sea-foam greens, blues, and pale yellows. Madeline wears striped leggings and a cardigan, with a barrette holding back her fly-away hair. Her expressions range from timid to stubborn, and finally, hopeful. Bonnie really is a huge dog, but not in the least scary, and the artist also pictures many other breeds of dogs with children scattered around the library room, all with earnest expressions on their little faces. My favorite detail is that every page is filled with books—in piles, in arms, open or closed, on shelves and tables, or scattered across the floor. This is my natural environment, whether at home or at work.

It is heartbreaking to realize that little children are perfectly well aware of the difference between a heart sticker and a star sticker, as well as all the other ways that adults try to mask the fact that they are saying, “You just don’t measure up.” We think of childhood as all fun and carefree, but these kinds of pressures are overwhelming to children, and Ms. Papp conveys all of this emotion in the first few pages of the book. By the end, not only has Madeline achieved success in her struggle, but Bonnie has a sweet surprise for everyone.

If you have a little one who needs help with reading, check with your local library or independent bookstore to see if they host sessions with reading dogs. And don’t forget to let the kids in your life catch you reading all the time. They’ll want to be just like you.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book, which means, of course, that I bought dozens of copies for my library system. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express those of my employer or anyone else.

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