Here I am performing one of the northland's Rituals of Winter, covering the windows with plastic to keep the wolves out.
I'm hearing from people who liked Old Yeller. Each to her own, and I don't want to pick on any books anyone loves.
But I guess I'm going to. [Option: skip this, and scroll to the end for a live streaming Puppy Cam link!]
Other people feel as I do, that these dead-pet stories violated us as children--especially the ones that that weren't stories at all, but sermons-in-disguise. These are the stories that manipulate feelings to teach a moral lesson, "for your own good."
Here's a test for authenticity:
Ask yourself if the same message about cruel necessity could be applied to the Donner Party. That is, swap "I had to kill my dog" with "I had to eat Dad." If the story still works, it's an honest story.
Modern sermonizing stories are the inheritors of Victorian morally improving tales for children, deliciously mocked by Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) in his Cautionary Tales for Children. "Matilda; Who Told Lies and Was Burned to Death" is a famous one, but ever better is Jim; Who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion.
Jim, as promised, runs away from his nurse...
He hadn't gone a yard when--Bang!
With open Jaws, a lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.
Now, just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels,
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.
No wonder Jim detested it!
My favorite table-turner, however, has got to be Edward Gorey.
Bink sent me these examples from Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies--an abcderian poem that dispatches little children in gruesome, nonsensical ways.
Why do these delight me?
I suppose because they playfully depict how life does not make moral sense: dreadful things happen all the time, to nobody's benefit. "Goodness"--loving kindness, courage, humor--has to be freestanding, despite the way life works, not because of it.
Most of Edward Gorey's books aren't for children.
My favorite children's books along these lines are Joan Aiken's Dido Twite series. (Gorey even illustrated some of them.) Starting with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Aiken takes London urchin Dido through all sorts of nonsensical horrors. Dido is a brave girl with an inherent sense of compassion and justice, but the books are never preachy.
Alice in Wonderland is another favorite. Moral, what moral? Don't talk to rabbits?
Just like life. What moral tidiness is there to be found in Congo?
When I start mentioning Congo, I know I've slipped into the heart of darkness....
Let me pull back and offer you this live streaming link to real PUPPIES!!!
Puppy Cam: Shiba Inu Puppies in Real Time. (Shiba Inus are those orange foxy Japanese dogs.) Warning: They are lethally cute. They're sleeping fattly while making little squeaky snuffling noises as I post this.
Photo of Shiba Inu puppy from Drop That Sock.