The canine sort, that is.

I recently received an email from my reviewer of Ice Cream & Dinosaurs, by Eric Litwin (author of the first few Pete the Cat books) and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site fame), reviewed in this issue. It kicks off a series about a guitar-strummin’ terrier mutt named Groovy Joe, and it got my reviewer thinking about more than the titular ice cream and dinosaurs. You see, she’s one of my dog–picture-book specialists (yes, that is a thing), and her exposure to the subgenre has given her perspective on what seems to be a depressingly sexist category.

“I have been noticing the [trend toward] male dog main characters a lot lately, and it seems to be increasing,” she wrote. “Just think of some of the last good dog books: Excellent Ed, Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range, It's Only Stanley, My Dog, Bob. BOYS, BOYS, BOYS!”

This observation prompted her to do a little statistical analysis of the last few years of picture books about dogs, and it bore out her hypothesis. Of the 62 books Vicky Second Image she found with dog protagonists from 2014 through May 16, only 11, or about 18 percent, featured bitches. Even worse, “it seems like all the interesting, spunky dogs are male. The female ones are like that silly Pretty Minnie in Paris from Danielle Steel or Naughty Mabel from Nathan Lane.” She was able to identify just three bitches with real agency: Plum, from Love Is My Favorite Thing, by Emma Chichester Clark; Nellie Belle, by Mem Fox and illustrated by Mike Austin; and  Lucy, by Randy Cecil.

She went on: “This is the same sort of unspoken bias as [the white default], although I realize that is a more important issue. But anyway, it's not OK.” No, it isn’t. Given how deeply important dogs are in the lives and literature of young children, such a gross imbalance in gender and agency in depictions of dogs is absolutely not OK.

Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.