Book Review: First Dog by J. Patrick Lewis and Beth Zappitello

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First Dog by J. Patrick Lewis and Beth Zappitello First Dog by J. Patrick Lewis and Beth Zappitello doesn’t name the Obamas or Bo but it definately hints about being about them. The book tells of a stray travelling all around the world (with quick little descriptions of different breeds of dogs he meets in different countries) before slipping through the fence around the White House where a young girl’s question of “can we keep him?” is met with the Obama slogan: “Yes, we can.” One thing that kind of surprised me is that at no point do we get a clear view of any member of the first family. A child ten years from now wouldn’t necessarily know which President is being talked about and I wonder if those who recognize the slogan would think it used mockingly, perhaps as a suggestion that the slogan is better suited to responding to a request for a dog than to politics.

A quick google search informs me that the Obama’s first dog Bo was not a stray but a Portugese Water Dog given by a breeder to the First Family. Apparently the Obamas had expressed a desire to take a shelter-dog but needed a hypoallergic one like Bo. I find myself wondering about the role of national mythology in a children’s book like this. We want to believe the first dog could be a stray just as people would like to believe that any person could become the President someday.

While the book had tidbits of information about different breed of dogs, it didn’t contain any information about Portugese Water Dogs. I suspect that is because the name doesn’t fit in with the American theme. The dog rejected all the foreign places to live and the “foreign” dogs he met. It wouldn’t fit the “America is best” idea to have the first dog named a Portugese Water Dog.

With very limited text per page the book is suitable for really young children. A newspaper shown in the beginning of the book refers to the 2008 U.S. housing woes affecting the world – including dogs needing new homes. If your kids, like mine, like to talk about everything that can be another opening for discussion about the 2008 economic crash or perhaps just the ways in which times of hardship can be hard for animals too. This could be a great book for younger kids while you read The Adventures of Unemployed Man with older kids.

A “teacher’s guide” with basic worksheets about such things as dog-care and what people call the president’s house is available on the publishing company’s website:


(Linking up to Hip Homeschooler’s Blog Hop and Kid’s Lit Blog Hop)

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  • Alex Baugh

    Sounds like a great book especially for kids who love dogs. I had thought it was actually about Bo when I saw it but making it not directly seems to give the book more opportunity to bring in other content. Thanks for sharing this book.

  • Reshama

    This would be a great read for kids who like dogs. I know DD would definitely like this one. Thanks for linking up on Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  • Rosey

    Thank you for breaking it down. I have a new reader and it sounds like this would be perfect for his level and interest.

    I’m visiting today from the Kid Lit Blog hop.

  • Cheryl Carpinello

    Sure looks like Bo! Love the fact that there are supplemental materials available. Makes this book perfect for school and home. Thanks for sharing on the Kid Lib Blog Hop. Cheryl, Hop Hostess

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