Another bit of sad news for the world of Children’s literature this week…author Bill Wallace died last Tuesday. He wrote many books, sort of evenly divided between humorous animal stories and adventurous survival stories (or sometimes animal survival stories and humorous adventure stories) that have been popular for thirty years. His first book, A Dog Called Kitty, is this week’s old favorite.
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Two years after moving to a farm from the city, Ricky is pretty well-adjusted to country life. One thing he’s never been able to face though, in either the city or the country, is dogs. When he was a toddler, one bit him. Ricky really only remembers the bite that made the scar under his eye, but he had to have over 50 stitches, and he definitely remembers the painful shots he had to have in case the dog had rabies. So maybe it’s not surprising that every time he sees a dog, he starts shaking, or running, or just plain panics.
Ricky can mostly ignore that fear by avoiding dogs, or being near dogs. However, when a stray puppy starts hanging around the farm, trying to survive by fighting the barn cats for the scraps they’re fed, Ricky’s fear of dogs starts bothering him again. Sure, the pup is rabbit-sized, fuzzy-furred and skinnier than any dog should be. But he’s a dog! And all dogs bite…don’t they?
But when Ricky finds the puppy stretched out in a corner of the hay barn, practically lifeless, panting pathetically with ribs showing and no energy at all, he knows that the dying dog isn’t a danger to anyone. He tries to be glad and leave the puppy behind, but even scared-of-every-dog Ricky can’t do that. He starts to smuggle food to the pup, hoping that if it recovers, it won’t bite.
What follows is a warm and funny story of a boy and the dog he never wanted.
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A Dog Called Kitty was the first book by Bill Wallace, published in 1980. It was the winner of the Texas Bluebonnet, the Oklahoma Sequoyah and the Nebraska Golden Sower Awards. Mr. Wallace’s first career was as a teacher, and he discovered his talent for writing when he wrote this book for his fourth grade class, to keep them quiet after recess. It worked! Suddenly the children’s book world found a new voice, and A Dog Called Kitty was followed by 29 more titles by Bill Wallace, alone and with his wife Carol Wallace.
Although I usually have a horrible time reading most boy and dog stories, A Dog Called Kitty made me laugh more than it brought me to tears. Like Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows and Marley and Me, the ending is bittersweet, but the story is well worth it.
If you like this book, try other books by Bill Wallace. Beauty is sort of a sequel to Kitty, about Ricky and his beautiful horse. Red Dog and No Dogs Allowed are two other dog/child stories with happier endings. Trapped in Death Cave and Blackwater Swamp are two of his best survival stories. Mr. Wallace wrote some very funny stories too; Snot Stew, The Biggest Klutz in Fifth Grade and The Backward Bird Dog are my favorites.
A Dog Called Kitty is written for fourth and fifth graders, but may be popular with younger kids too, if they listen to it read aloud. If you’re sharing it with younger kids though, make sure you’re prepared for the ending. (Psst–adults, this mean you should read and be prepared before sharing.) And let me know what you think!