Tag Archives: Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

Starting with the Little Ones

Continuing the Best of EatReadSleep’s Tenth Anniversary!

I read everything, but children’s books are also my profession. I loved reading to my son when he was little, and now I have grandchildren to turn into bibliophiles. During the ten years that I’ve been writing EatReadSleep, I have been the children’s selector for a large library system. Here are some of my favorites from that time.

Board Books

I have only written one post about these sturdy little volumes, and it was meant to be funny. Seriously, though, Sandra Boynton, Michael Dahl, and others have poured their prodigious talents into books that will be slobbered and chewed on, and parents everywhere appreciate it.

Academic Board Books are a thriving industry. Lots of titles here. Also lots of snark.

Picture Books

Picture books! Those little artistic gems. How I love them. The best picture books convey oceans of meaning in just a few well-chosen words, along with gorgeous or hilarious illustrations. Here are some of my favorites over the years. Many of the reviews are grouped in the original posts. Click the links for full reviews!


How Do Dinosaurs…? Jane Yolen is one the most prolific living writers, and this continuing series never fails to teach lessons in the cleverest ways.
Pete the Cat is one groovy dude. James Litwin started the series, which was continued by James Dean. This is one of the most popular series going these days.
Olivia makes an appearance in the same post. She is one precocious little pig.
Duck and Goose are a charming pair, one more adventurous than the other. Tad Hills is also the author of the excellent Rocket Learns to Read and others.
Jean Reagan writes the How to Babysit a…. series, instructing children to allow grandparents naps and other helpful advice. Comedy that hits close to home.
Bonny Becker started the Bear series with A Visitor for Bear. Sweet, charming, and amusing. Large volumes just right for bedtimes.
What dog lover doesn’t sympathize with Carter Goodrich’s Mister Bud? Adorable.
Some children’s books, like Muppets movies, are at least partly written for grownups, even though they definitely work for the kids, too. I Am Otter is one of those.

Single Titles:

Oh, this poor, little penguin. Flight School will have you sympathetically laughing along.
The Tortoise & the Hare is a wordless wonder, just one of the Caldecott winner’s stunning creations.
There Might Be Lobsters is a summery title that will help timid children to overcome their fears.
Hum and Swish is another breezy, oceanside title. This one encourages children to stay true to their own vision.
Great Joy is not your usual Santa-and-his-reindeer Christmas books for kids. Enduring and gorgeous. Tissues not included.
I mean, seriously. Look at those ears and tell me you’re not in love. In a Jar is for every child whose friend has moved away.
Sweety is a confident little misfit. For every child who marches to the beat of her own drummer. Sweetness and naked mole rats. (That’s a species, not a state of undress.)
This Is My Home, This Is My School. A fond look back by a happily homeschooled author, for his younger fellow home educators and their friends in conventional school settings.
Everything about Madeline Finn and the Library Dog will make you say, “Awww.” There are other books that follow, but I love this one.
Watercress is a recent multi-award winner, a quietly beautiful book that packs an emotional wallop.
Clovis Keeps His Cool, but just barely. That huge bull with the petite feet! Hilarious with a message.
Achingly poignant, Boats for Papa is for little ones experiencing the loss of a parent, whether through divorce, abandonment, incarceration, or death.
The Steads can do no wrong. A Sick Day for Amos McGee was the first Caldecott winner for this married couple and features an old zookeeper and his loving animals.
Saint George and the Dragon was old when my son was young. A medieval myth retold and spectacularly illustrated by one of my favorite book artists.

There will be many more children’s books to come, so stay tuned!

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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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