It’s entirely possible that somewhere a little one is reading their Grandparent’s childhood copy of Dogger.
First published in 1977, Dogger is almost 40 years old – and it’s still fresh, lively and entirely relatable. The story is so well known and well loved that it hardly needs recounting here. Just in case, though …
Dogger is a soft toy dog who is very special to his owner Dave – he’s part of Dave’s life in every way.
Then, being distracted by an ice-cream truck, Dave leaves Dogger at his sister’s school where Dogger is added to a Toy Stall for the School Summer Fair!
Dave, thinking he has lost Dogger, is distraught of course and can barely manage to be excited about the Fair. But then he spots Dogger on the Toy Stall.
He runs off to get enough money to buy Dogger, but in the meantime a little girl buys Dogger and she refuses to sell him back.
It’s Dave’s sister Bella who saves the day when she offers to trade her magnificent running prize of a Teddy with a blue silk bow for Dogger.
The little girl agrees and Dave is ever so grateful and happy.
As always when Shirley Hughes tells a story there’s a whole lot more going on – lots of glimpses into family life and English life, everyday kindnesses scattered throughout the story, lovely moments of unselfishness, all realistically mixed with moments of sadness, fear and jealousy.
Some moments that have made Dogger a classic:
Dave learns to wash and care for Dogger while his baby brother Joe and sister Bella play nearby. Talking and reading about everyday chores and work at home elevates that work.
The blissful disregard Bella and Joe show for Dave’s distress in the beginning. Empathy is hard – I imagine we’ve all had a moment or two when we played while someone we love worried.
Mum and Dad searching everywhere for Dogger – instantly relatable for any parent reading Dogger aloud.
Dave’s disgruntled and jealous slouch when Bella wins the prize for running – because it’s tricky to be happy for others when you’re feeling the weight of loss yourself.
The possessiveness of the little girl who buys Dogger and Bella’s cool head in negotiating with her – Dave couldn’t have managed that alone.
Bella’s instant willingness to sacrifice for her brother – such sisterly love and such kindness and empathy.
We’ve had many happy nights reading Dogger – it’s a family favourite and probably one of yours too. How great is it when a story as universal and comforting as Dogger also teaches lots of wonderful things along the way?
P.S. Naturally, when a book is almost 40 years old there might be a few things that rub the wrong way. For example, gender roles are very traditional in Dogger. But, that can be a good thing as it adds to the range of gender roles represented in the child’s reading life. Traditional gender roles are still quite often representative of a child’s lived experience. And Dogger is an especially appealing example of a book where Mum stays home and cares for children while Dad goes to work then comes home to immerse himself in family life. There’s no hint of inequality in the parents' relationship or in the esteem in which Dave and his siblings hold their parents – just as a family ideally would be regardless of the way gender roles are approached.