Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Poky Little Puppy

by Anita Mae Draper

When I think of children’s books, The Poky Little Puppy is the first one that comes to mind. Maybe I owned a copy. Maybe I read it at one of the houses I lived in. Frankly, I don’t remember because it’s buried in a part of my memory I don’t wish to re-live. But the story played a significant role in my troubled childhood. If I had a shelf for cherished childhood belongings, The Poky Little Puppy would be right up there beside my missing-fur-in-the-ears teddy bear.

First published in 1942, The Poky Little Puppy was one of the first 12 books published under The Little Golden Books banner. In 2002, Publisher’s Weekly named The Poky Little Puppy the No 1 best-selling hardcover children’s book of all time with over 15 million copies sold.

So what is it about this 24 page book which makes it so endearing? I don’t know about anyone else, but I identified with the main character. It’s not that the puppy was poky as in slow, but he was very curious. His curiosity led him to new discoveries, like caterpillars, instead of keeping up with his siblings. Fellow adventurers, his siblings loved to explore on the other side of the fence however, the only way to get there was to dig a hole and crawl under the fence. When the siblings arrived back at home, they were sent to bed without dessert for digging a hole under the fence. When the poky little puppy returned, everyone was sleeping and the dessert was just sitting there so he ate it all. Two nights in a row, this scenario was repeated. On the third night, however, his siblings – whether intentional or not – filled up the hole after they came back. They were rewarded and given their dessert. When the poky little puppy returns, he has to squeeze through the fence to get back into the yard and then discovers that his siblings have eaten all the dessert. He goes to bed feeling sorry for himself.

To me, the appeal of this story is not that the poky puppy was curious, or that he had siblings although I was very curious and had siblings as well, but that he was the loner and went to bed without dessert. For a time in my childhood, the family I lived with ridiculed and abused me continually – verbally and otherwise. I may have been a part of their family, but I was always where they were not. If my siblings got in trouble, I was blamed and received the punishment. If I got into trouble on my own merit and admitted the error of my ways, I still received the punishment. You would not believe the amount of days I went to bed without supper, never mind dessert. So when the poky little puppy goes to bed and huddles under his blanket, belly growling and feeling sorry for himself, I knew exactly what he was feeling.

Which makes me wonder… why did those other 15 million people buy the book? And where did the author, Janette Lowrey (1892–1986), get the idea? Although she wrote other children’s books, most of Texas author Janette Sebring Lowrey’s fiction was written for teens and published by Harper & Row during the 1940s and 1950s. Probably her best known work was her 1950 novel Margaret which inspired the 1958 television show “Walt Disney Presents: Annette” starring a young Annette Funicello. It ran for 19 episodes and was about a newly orphaned country girl who goes to live in the city with an upper class aunt and uncle whom she’s never met and how she adapts to her new circumstances while staying true to herself.

Gustaf Tenggren, also of Disney fame, created the illustrations used in The Poky Little Puppy. Gustaf Adolf Tenggren (1896–1970) was known for his Arthur Rackham-influenced fairy-tale style when he went to work for the Walt Disney Company in 1936. As chief illustrator for Snow White and the Seven Drarfs, Tenggren was able to give Snow White an "Old World" look which Walt Disney had been seeking for this, the first American feature-length animated film. Under Tenggren’s direction, the seven dwarfs developed their individual characteristics so familiar to us today. With a team of some 700 illustrators, Tenggren worked on such classics as Bambi, Pinocchio, The Ugly Duckling and The Old Mill, before leaving Disney in 1940.

Tenggren also left behind the Rackham fairy-tale illustration style and apparently, never painted that way again. When he went to work for Little Golden Books from 1942 to 1962, he adopted a more simplistic style which still appeals to adults and children.

When I began to research this post, I hadn’t realized the illustrator of my all-time favorite book was so famous. Most artists start small and work towards bigger things but in this case, Gustaf Tenggren went in the other direction. Maybe he was offered big incentives to leave Disney and start for Little Golden Books. Maybe he had to sign a declaration that he wouldn’t ever paint in the same manner as he had while at Disney. I don’t know the answer to these questions but I am curious.

I also don’t know why the name Janette Lowrey isn’t more well-known. I think I would’ve liked reading her other books if The Poky Little Puppy and Margaret are anything to go by.

And although I’m not going to reference all the places I virtually visited to glean bits and pieces of information from, it seems to me that The Poky Little Puppy stayed in the No 1 spot until the hefty Harry Potter books hit the market in 1997. I like to think that’s what it took to dislodge the little book about a curious puppy that put millions of children to sleep.

By the way, I stopped in at my favorite used book store because it was easier to buy an old copy of The Poky Little Puppy than it was to search through boxes of stashed books at home. When the clerk heard what I was looking for she shook her head and said, "You and everyone else." I asked what she meant and she said everyone wants it because it reminds them of when they were young. Imagine that.

Have you read books by Janette Sebring Lowrey or remember watching Disney Presents Annette as part of the Mickey Mouse Club?

Photo Credits:


  1. Hmmm, I think I need to go through my old books and see where that puppy might have gone to!

    Children have so many books now, and hundreds are published each year with the thick cardboard pages, but for me it was all Golden Books! thanks for the background on such a great book and the interesting info on the author and illustrator.

    P.S. I still have my clock-faced Golden Book "How to Tell Time" and I can remember the angst of thinking I'd never figure out the system. Numbers never appealed like letters, right?!

    Thanks Anita Mae - great post!

  2. Oh, I REMEMBER this book and the puppy's curiosity! SO LOVED IT!


    What a fun post. I'm reliving great memories...

    Thanks, Anita!

  3. Great book. Great post. But I'm think I'm going to have to search for that novel Margaret now. Sounds like something I'd love! Thanks, Anita, for digging around and finding out all this fascinating information!

  4. WHen we found out I was pregnant with our first baby, we went and bought this book. My husband still has his copy from when he was a little kid, but a new copy was in order on such a momentous occasion!

  5. Thanks Deb. Your clock book might seem like an antique in some schools today, too. It's a problem of our technological society that they don't teach clock reading skills as part of the curriculum any longer. When I asked my kids why they couldn't tell time by a regular clock, they asked why should they because everything is digital nowadays. Now that bothers me. We have a 'bird' clock in the living room (bird songs on every hour) and that's the one I'm using to teach my kids the 'old-fashioned way'. Scary, eh.

  6. Thanks, Patti.

    D'Ann, you're welcome. I'm always amazed when I delve into ordinary research and find an extraordinary woman at the bottome of it all.

  7. Lisa, I know what you mean. You want to pass on to your kids those things which offered comfort but you can't imagine parting with your own. I mean, a blankie may be a blankie but it's my blankie, right? LOL

    I like that Janette Sebring Lowrey wrote a sequel to The Poky Little Puppy such as:

    - Where is the Poky Little Puppy? 1962 (The cover shows the little puppy in a big boot.)

    Other 'Poky Puppy' books but with different authors and even different publishers include:

    - The Poky Little Puppy's First Christmas (Little Golden Book 1975, 1979, 2002)

    - The Poky Little Puppy's Book of Colors (Little Nugget 1995)

    - Poky Little Puppy's Friends (Little Golden Book Land 1990)

    - The Poky Little Puppy's Naughty Day (Little Golden Book 1985)

    - The Poky Little Puppy Comes to Sesame Street (Little Golden Storybook 1999)

    - The Poky Little Puppy and the Lost Bone (Lift and Look 1985)

    - The Poky Little Puppy Follows His Nose Home (1975)

    - The Squeaky Barn (The Poky Little Puppy) (Board book 1998)

    - Poky Little Puppy's Counting Book (1980, 1997)

    - The Poky Little Puppy's Wonderful Winter Day (1982)

    - Poky Little Puppy's Special Day (Big Golden Book 1990)

    - Poky Little Puppy and the Patchwork Blanket (1984)

    - Poky Little Puppy at the Fair (1983)

    - Poky Little Puppy's Day at the Fair (Touch-and-Feel 1990)

    So even if you can't find the original version, there's a cute puppy adventure out there for almost every occasion.

    Hmmm... wouldn't that be neat if there was one called...

    The Poky Little Puppy Goes to Sunday School? :)

  8. Anita, this sent me rummaging for my old copy of The Poky Little Puppy. I couldn't find it, but I did locate "The Shy Little Kitten," also illustrated by Tenggren, written by Cathleen Schurr.
    And the cover price back in 1972? A whopping 39 cents!

  9. Anita, this book was always on our bookshelf too, but I have no clue where it is now, vanished in our move. It's probably with my red hand towels which I still can't find. Ugh. Anyway...Your post brought back sweet memories but it also broke my heart. Thanks for sharing so honestly.

    I have never heard of Margaret -- Sounds like the sort of thing I'd have loved. Annette Funicello was such a TV sweetheart. I loved her movies and watching her in Mickey Mouse Club reruns with Cubby and Bobby. :-)

    Maybe you can be the author of The Poky Little Puppy Goes to Sunday School! I love it!

  10. Niki - 39 cents? Oh wow! And it's nice to know you had a copy, too. :)

    Susie - Growing up, we only had 2 Canadian TV channels and The Mickey Mouse Club wasn't on either of them so I have to admit I've never watched the show. My first 'encounter' with Annette Funicello was in the old beach movies with Frankie Avalon. I loved those!

    And it's funny you say that about the PLP Goes to SS because ideas started shooting as soon as I posted my comment. LOL

  11. I remember the Poky Little Puppy, but not well. I must have been part of that generation that had too many books. I remember getting books from the Golden Book club every month for a while. Honestly, I was trying to remember what books we read when I was little, and I had a hard time. Probably because there were so many.

  12. Actually Dina, when I first told the kids I was going to write this post they asked what the book was about. I don't know why but when I told them about it, hubby looked at me and said that's the story of the 3 Little Kittens. You know, the ones that lost their mittens. And I had to sit and think about it.

    You see, I hadn't thought about it in years and somehow, I got mixed up and told my sons the puppy had to go to bed without supper because he'd lost his mittens. LOL

  13. i'm new... hope to post nearly more time after time!


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