• Happy birthday June Behrens (Fiesta! ), Stuart J. Murphy (MathStart series), George Ella Lyon (Borrowed Children), Melvin Burgess (Junk), Marie G. Lee (Finding My Voice), and David Kirk (Miss Spider series).
  • It’s the birth date of Walter de la Mare (1873-1956), The Turnip, The Lord Fish; Maud Hart Lovelace (1892-1980), the Betsy-Tacy series; and Alvin Schwartz (1927-1992), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
  • New York becomes the first state to require car license plates in 1901. Read The Way Cool License Plate Book by Leonard Wise.
  • It’s the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. Read Madeline at the White House by John Bemelmans Marciano.

In April, we celebrate Pets Are Wonderful Month. For all pet owners the concept is self-explanatory. My furred wonder Lance takes a morning snooze near my desk as I write and generally participate in every activity of my life.

Fifty years ago, in 1961, a book appeared that celebrates the bond between humans and their pets—Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey. In this story, ideal for seven- to twelve-year-olds, three pets—an old bull terrier, a Siamese cat, and a young Labrador retriever—attempt a treacherous 250 mile journey through the Canadian wilderness. Having been left with a friend of their owners, the three head back home to their own family. They battle the elements, face starvation and illness, and fight wild animals. The third-person, omniscient voice of the novel allows readers to watch the actions of the animals but avoids anthropomorphizing them. With characters based on Burnford’s own three pets, the narrative contains lots of action and adventure but still leaves readers smiling at the end.

Emilie McLeod of the Atlantic Monthly Press instantly loved this novel written by an unknown Canadian writer. But in the 1960s, the Atlantic and Little Brown shared publishing operations, and McLeod needed to have the approval of Little Brown’s children’s book publisher Helen Jones. Jones was a no-nonsense straight shooter, who said what she thought and took no prisoners. I vividly remember the day she called for an author’s address (which I knew off the top of my head) and her crisp words, “You are very efficient Miss Silvey,” before she hung up the phone.

But I digress. Emilie and Helen became embroiled in a heated controversy over whether the house should publish this book—and both refused to back down. Eventually the higher levels of management in both companies intervened. The publisher of the Atlantic’s adult list claimed the book—his counterpart at Little Brown agreed to the acquisition. Hence one of the great children’s books of the 1960s appeared as an adult book, even though no one thought it was written for them. Such are the vagaries of publishing, then and now. After all, it is a business conducted by very “human” beings. Things might be better if our pets ran publishing houses. Certainly everyone would get more treats!

I’m not going to dwell on that idea today; I’m simply going to spend some quality time with my own sweethearts and savor, once again, the fabulous storytelling in The Incredible Journey.

Here’s a passage from The Incredible Journey:

Twenty minutes passed by and no move was made; then suddenly the young dog rose, stretched himself, and stood looking intently down the drive. He remained like this for several minutes, while the cat watched closely, one leg still pointing upwards; then slowly the Labrador walked down the driveway and stood at the curve, looking back as though inviting the others to come. The old dog rose too, now, somewhat stiffly, and followed. Together they turned the corner, out of sight.



Originally posted April 25, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Cats, Dogs
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Incredible Journey


  1. M Gudlewski says:

    I love learning the backstory of books. This was a good one!

  2. Autumn says:

    I have always been a huge animal lover and sought some animal stories when I was in elementary school because I was obsessed with cats and dogs. I remember reading Burnford’s novel when I was in second or third grade and absolutely loving it. I mostly remember that it made me smile. I would love to read it again now that I’m older. Thanks for the publishing story behind the novel.

  3. Rodney D says:

    I have always had an affinity for this story, and I think part of my reasoning is because the animals are not anthropomorphized. While I enjoy stories in which animals bear a resemblance to humans, I appreciated this gem of a book in which they were allowed to remain themselves going on an amazing and harrowing adventure. It is refreshing and exciting to read.

  4. Kate says:

    I agree with Rodney whole heartedly. Animals are fascinating on their own, and I love that this story avoids antropomorphizing them. They each have unique personalities that are distinctly cat-like and dog-like. This adventure story does not need humans for readers to attach to it. The humans in the novel simply provide a back story for the animals’ prior lives, and are there to support their motivation to return home, and that’s all they need to do. The animals easily drive the story by themselves.

  5. Erin says:

    I have a clear memory of reading this book for my 5th grade English class. As I posted in the because of Winn Dixie page, I am sucker for animal stories, and this one is a classic. When we finished the book, we watched the 1960’s film version. It was very convenient that the newer film version “Homeward Bound’ was also released that year, and to this day is a favorite of mine.

  6. Momo says:

    Anita you have done it again this was my most favourite book when I was a young child. I still treasure my hardcover copy.

  7. G. Perry says:

    I read this after the review last year. Though I’m not in the 5th grade, I felt like a 5th grader when I read this fine book.

    Being an animal lover, it had me on the edge of my reading chair, and I couldn’t relax until those critters got home.

    Wonderful book for lads and lasses, All Creatures Great and Small..

  8. Allison D. says:

    I loved this book when I was in grade school, and I remember begging my parents for a dog (or several). I’d forgotten about this book but I am absolutely going to reread it, and I’m sure it will have an even greater impact now that I finally have dogs of my own!

  9. Tish Dersnah says:

    Oh the ending! Sometimes I just pull the book off my shelf and reread the ending. Still cry.

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