• Happy birthday Joan Elma Rahn (Plants That Changed History), Mona Kerby (Owney, The Mail-Pouch Pooch), and David Wiesner (Tuesday, Art and Max).
  • It’s the birth date of Patricia Lauber (1924–2010), Volcano: The Eruption and Healing of Mount St. Helens.
  • Happy birthday to baseball legend Hank Aaron. Read Hank Aaron: Brave In Every Way by Peter Golenbock, illustrated by Paul Lee.
  • Those of us with a little chocolate hazelnut spread addiction will be happy to celebrate World Nutella Day. Read After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away by Joyce Carol Oates.

Today for children’s authors and artists week, I’d like to honor a nonagenarian who published her first children’s book sixty years ago, Margaret Bloy Graham. Born in Canada, Margaret moved to New York in the 1940s to work as a commercial illustrator. During that time she became good friends with two other U.S. immigrants, Hans and Margret Rey, creators of Curious George, and in 1948 married Gene Zion. Because Margaret wanted to illustrate children’s books, Hans showed her how to put together an art portfolio, and Margret encouraged legendary Harper & Row editor Ursula Nordstrom to take a look. Nordstrom liked what she saw. So did the rest of the children’s book community, because Margaret’s first two picture books, one written by her husband Gene Zion (All Falling Down) and one by Charlotte Zolotow (The Storm Book) both won Caldecott Honors.

Margaret and Gene would become known for another text that he wrote in a short period of time, one he gave to Margaret when she came back from shopping one day. Margaret read it and exclaimed, “This will keep us.” She knew immediately that not only was the text for Harry the Dirty Dog delightful, but it naturally suggested very compelling visual material. It is still hard for me to believe that one of the doggiest dogs in the cannon of children’s books was created by someone who did not live with one—but such was the case. Graham’s aunt, however, had both Aberdeen and Sealyham terriers, and Graham developed Harry—short legs, long body, big head, and white dog with black spots—as a combination of these two dogs.

In the beginning of Harry the Dirty Dog, we meet our hero, Harry, scurrying down the front steps, carrying his scrubbing brush out of the house because he hears the bath water running in the tub. Like many of his canine counterparts, Harry hates taking a bath. So Harry buries the brush in the back yard and sets out for a day of mischief, even sliding down the coal chute. This turns him into a dirty dog, one unrecognizable to his family. Still the book has a happy ending, and in the final scene we see Harry, clean, with his scrubbing brush hidden under his pillow. Harry may not really have reformed all that much.

The book was followed by sequels, No Roses for Harry! and Harry by the Sea, and in 2002 Graham went back to her classic and created new artwork for the book, one that retains all the charm of the original but provides more color than the printing process made possible in the 1950s. Tastefully executed, this new edition reminds everyone who reads it why the book has been in print for fifty-five years.

One day, walking my own dirty dogs, I was stopped by a grandfather who had just purchased Harry the Dirty Dog as a Christmas present for his grandson. In the first day, the boy had asked his mother to read it twenty-five times! With a perfect story arc, succinct narrative line, and art that extends the text, the book can, indeed, be read again and again, only increasing everyone’s laughter.

I’m so grateful for this book—and even more grateful that Margaret Bloy Graham lives a few towns away from me. Thank you Margaret for Harry and for being part of the children’s book community for sixty years.

Here’s a page from Harry the Dirty Dog:


Originally posted February 5, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Bedtime, Dogs, Humor
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Harry the Dirty Dog


  1. Dianne says:

    I absolutely adore Harry the Dirty Dog. It’s the *perfect* picture book and is as wonderful today as it was on my first reading, so many years ago. No matter how many times I share Harry with students, I continue to be enchanted.
    I’m thrilled to learn more about the story’s genesis. Thanks, Anita!

  2. Sarah says:

    I love your blog! Harry the Dirty Dog is my son’s absolute favorite!

  3. Tess W. says:

    This was one of those books that kept popping up. I kept ignoring it (just a sort of disinterested notice of it in passing) and it kept jumping out at me, saying, “Tess … read me …” And I did, and I loved Harry! My cat was just like Harry – he’d come in from rolling in the dirt and clouds of dust would roll of him ^_^

  4. Teri-K says:

    Some — few — books are a perfect combination of pictures and words. The Harry books are just that. I can never think of the story without seeing those wonderful pictures in my head, and it’s been years since I read them. But I look forward to sharing them with my grandson in a couple of years.

  5. Mary D says:

    One of my son’s favorite books in the early 80s. And I can easily get past the title, unlike the more recent dog Walter, who isn’t so clean himself, but is a little more offensive, so to speak.

  6. Debbie says:

    “It’s Harry!”

    My brother, sister, and I used to check this and the other Harry books out of the library over and over again. And then my kids loved it just as much!

  7. Harry the Dirty Dog is indeed a legend.

    Some books have the ‘je ne sais quoi’ that propels them into champion territory, and this is one of them.

    Is it the fact that parents keep telling their kids that they are dirty and need to wash, so it is great fun for kids to transpose this constant pressure onto this cute little dog?

    Is it the fact that the dog cannot communicate completely clearly with the family (and uses tricks and every possible act he can think of), just like kids have to do sometimes with us?

    Or maybe the fun that Harry has running away from home and then returning?

    Probably all of the above and then more.

    Harry has been a smash kid in my household since the first time that we met him!

    For all those parents who don’t have a copy of Harry the Dirty Dog, you can treat your kids to the book by surfing over to http://www.storylineonline.net/ (The Screen Actors Guild Foundation) – and enjoy a fantastic read-aloud of the book (with original images) by Betty White.

    Thanks for the great review Anita!

    Read Aloud Dad

    P.S. Isn’t this world small. Today I started reading Jenny and The Cat Club to my twins. After I finished the first two chapters, I glanced through some of the other Jenny books – specifically The Hotel Cat. At the beginning, I read a dedication to Ursula Nordstrom (“our friend and sponsor from the loving Cat Club”). I remembered I read her name earlier today – but not where. All of a sudden, it occurred to me, it was in the Book-A-Day Almanac!

  8. Sam L. says:

    I’ve never heard of this book, but the premise sounds wonderful. I just requested it from the library.

  9. Shutta Crum says:

    I was an children’s librarian for 24+ years. The first four years of that time I did children’s outreach and did between 20 and 30 story times a month, HARRY THE DIRTY DOG was one of the first books I found that always worked with wiggly audiences. I love it! Thank you for reminding me of it…

  10. Tom Angleberger says:

    Wow, I can always learn something new from Anita, even about a book I once had memorized.

    By the by, don’t forget Harry and the Lady Next Door, which is no masterpiece but has some charm.

    And, you may as well count Benjy’s Doghouse and Benjy’s and the Barking Bird, since they are so very much Harry books.

    I once did a few posts about MBG, one called Naughty Naughty Ms. Graham about a hidden “Easter egg” in H&TLND http://riddleburger.wordpress.com/2007/09/12/naughty-naughty-ms-graham-a-harry-the-dirty-dog-dirty-secret/

    And another about her modern sensibilities: http://riddleburger.wordpress.com/2007/11/19/oh-ms-graham-you-modern-woman/

  11. suzi w. says:

    As I read your tweet, I was so excited, I knew who it was!! I’m actually more familiar with No roses for Harry! the image of the bird’s nest made out of the dog sweater is I think one that will stay with me always. How awesome to know the story behind how the author got started.

  12. Gail Terp says:

    Some books just last forever. I continue to love this one. Thanks for passing it on to readers who haven’t discovered it.

  13. Anita says:

    Thanks everyone for the love for Harry; and thanks Tom for the added MBG posts. I wish she were on the internet….

  14. Linda C. says:

    Your blog is an every-day treat for me. Harry, the Dirty Dog is one of my favorites (And I’m a Cat Person!). It is the perfect match of narrative and illustrations. Thanks, as usual, for the background.

  15. Gretchen N. says:

    I don’t remember when I first got a copy of Harry the Dirty Dog, but I do remember that I fell in love with Harry from the first time I read the book. I love all of his antics, but more than that is his realization that being with his family is worth all the baths in the world!

  16. Diane says:

    Anita, thank you so much for providing the interesting background on this wonderful author and illustrator. My family was first introduced to Harry when we purchased “A Harry the Dirty Dog Treasury” which contained three Harry stories; Harry the Dirty Dog, No Roses For Harry, and Harry by the Sea. Our favorite is Harry by the Sea. Harry gets covered in seaweed and mistaken for a Bushy- backed Sea Slug. At first our family thought this sea creature must be a made up name. We discovered it was the name of a real sea animal. We love to read this Harry story while on vacation at the beach. Harry has provided many laughs again and again.

  17. Vicki Solomon says:

    Thank you, Anita and all, for enjoying Harry so much. I am a friend of Margaret Graham’s, and I will make sure she sees those two online posts. Last year I showed her your entry about Harry the Dirty Dog, and she was mighty pleased!

  18. Anita says:

    Vicki: Thanks so much for getting the posts to Margaret — please share with her all Harry love that has been expressed on the blog!

  19. Allison Cole says:

    I’m also a great fan of Harry the Dirty Dog, and enjoyed No Roses for Harry as a child, as well. As a fellow dog lover, I too am in disbelief over the fact that the text was written by someone without a dog! I hope they got one eventually. Thanks for reminding me of this classic!

  20. Momo says:

    Our library copy of Harry the Dirty dog was so old and worn. How lucky that everyone loves this book including the publisher and so we were able to recently purchase a brand new hard cover copy ready for the next generation of readers even here in Australia. I also have my own little Harry toy – he loves to sit with the children when we read his books. I wish other special out of print books could be as lucky as Harry.

  21. Cathy says:

    I, too, love this one! I had an 85 year old patron come in the other day with her daughter. She asked me if I could help her find “the book about the dog who gets seaweed on him.” I knew immediately that she wanted Harry By the Sea! When I found it and Harry the Dirty Dog, she told me that she used to read them to her grandchildren and wanted to know if she could buy them!! She was desperate to find a copy to read to her great grandchildren! So sweet!

  22. Anita says:

    Cathy: Thanks for the story. It is always wonderful when you can put the reader and book together again.

  23. Love Harry. What spunk! And I loved reading this book in my early children’s librarian days. Used a scrub brush to introduce it: Harry’s scrub brush. My own girls loved it, and this post has inspired me to order a copy for my first grandson.

  24. When I think of this book, I remember reading it with my Grandma, who lived on a farm in Iowa, which is very far away from where I grew up in Utah. When we would go stay with her, this was one of the books we would always read, and I remember reading it together at night, and how quiet the country was. I will always hear this book in my grandma’s voice, and it will always be special to me and make me think of her and those peaceful Iowa nights of my childhood.

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