• Happy birthday John Jakes (Susanna of the Alamo) and Junko Morimoto (Two Bullies).
  • It’s the birth date of Andrew Lang (1844–1912), Blue Fairy Book and Beni Montresor (1926–2001), May I Bring a Friend.
  • It’s the birthday of Jack Johnson (1878–1946), the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion, known as the “Galveston Giant.” Read Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Shane W. Evans.
  • Composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was also born on this day. Read Bach’s Goldberg Variations by Anna Harwell Celenza, illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel, and Bach’s Big Adventure by Sallie Ketcham, illustrated by Timothy Bush.

Today I’d like to acknowledge two holidays. March has been designated Ethical Awareness Month, and today is National She’s Funny That Way Day, a time for people to list the five ways that the women in their lives make them laugh.

When I thought about a funny, engaging character who faces an ethical dilemma, Georgina Hayes of Barbara O’Connor’s How to Steal a Dog came instantly to mind. O’Connor moves with grace through this story of a young girl, abandoned by her father and now facing hard times. Her opening line grabs the reader’s attention immediately: “The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car.”

Thrown out of their apartment because they cannot pay rent, Georgina, her mother, and her younger brother Toby all work desperately to keep their lives as normal as possible. Georgina becomes more and more unkempt, begins to fail at school, and loses her friends. But she is a girl with a plan — she wants to help her mother get enough money for a deposit on a place to live. When she sees a sign that offers a five-hundred-dollar reward for finding a dog, Georgina’s mind begins working overtime. If she can’t find this dog, why not steal another one and then claim the money?

So she keeps a notebook about her ideas—what types of dogs to look for and what kinds of houses to case. Finally she spots the perfect dog in what seems the perfect neighborhood, and then realizes she has no place to hide a stolen animal. However, she and Toby persist in their quest. Only after Georgina takes a dog from its owner does she begin to have qualms about what she has just done. The situation doesn’t seem as ethically clear-cut as Georgina first believed (after all, she desperately needs money and other people have more of it than they need), particularly after she befriends the owner.

Rarely has a family struggling with poverty been so brilliantly portrayed in fiction for young readers, and few books for children have ever explored an ethical issue so clearly. Does the poverty of Georgina’s family override what a decent human being should do? Basically a caring, good person caught in bad circumstances, Georgina makes the right decision, just as readers hope she will. For any readers concerned about the final outcome or the morality of the book, Georgina makes the lesson she learned quite clear: “DO NOT STEAL A DOG.”

Personally, I spent my entire first reading of this book worried about the dog, Willy, but like the protagonist, both he and his owner are fine at the end. Extremely successful as a read-aloud for third through fifth grades or for book discussion groups, How to Steal a Dog has gained a host of fans, many who believe that it is the best book that they have ever read.

Here’s a passage from How to Steal a Dog:


These are the rules for finding a dog:
1. The dog must not bark too much.
2. The dog must not bite.
3. The dog must be outside by itself sometimes.
4. The dog must be loved a lot and not just some old dog that nobody cares about.
5. The owner of the dog must look like somebody who will pay a lot of money to get their dog back, like maybe someone who has a big house and rides in a limo or something like that.



Originally posted March 31, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Award Winning, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Dogs, Family
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for How to Steal a Dog


  1. Rebecca says:

    I haven’t read this but now I really want to! Believable ethical dilemmas that are not clear cut are hard to find in books for young readers– the very ones who have trouble understanding that the world isn’t black and white. Thanks for mentioning it!

  2. Vicky says:

    As a dog lover, I am embarrassed to admit that I had the hardest time picking up this book (hey, we all know what happens to dogs in most children’s middle grade fiction!) However, once I read it, I was smitten. It was such a powerful story and in the end the dog’s happy ending is so satisfying. I’ve added this text to an SPCA list of great humane texts.

  3. Connie says:

    I agree. I was bothered by this book but the ethical
    issues were tackled in a profound way. When
    I booktalk it I present situation in which a person
    could be desperate enough to do something.that’s wrong.

  4. Carrie says:

    This is one of my favourite novels to read aloud. I recommend it to everyone when they are looking for a book that will spark rich discussion. My students were spellbound when I read this book to them. I would hear them talking about it throughout the entire day. Such a truly fantastic book. It made me a Barbara O’Connor fan and none of her books has yet to dissapoint!

  5. Angus says:

    We adopted a dog six months ago and my son Theo is obsessed with dog books. He’s ten and devoured this wonderful book. It sparked several interesting discussions. Great to see this post which might bring it to more readers.

  6. Anita says:

    Thanks everyone for your posts on How to Steal a Dog; I was happy Angus to hear about your experience with your son. So many children have fallen under the spell of this book.

  7. Ashley says:

    I haven’t read this book but now I must! What a powerful first line. Thank you for recommending, Anita.

  8. How to Steal a Dog was a wonderful story. I think it’s time to pull it out for a re-read!

  9. Barbara O'Connor says:

    Thanks so much for this, Anita. Means a lot to me.

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