Levi Pinfold’s Black Dog tells the story of a black dog that arrives outside a family’s home one morning. The father in the family wakes up first and calls the police, reporting that, “There’s a black dog the size of a tiger outside my house!” The police officer tells him not to go outside. The mother wakes up next, and yells to her husband that, “There’s a black dog the size of an elephant outside!” One by one, the other family members wake up and cower at the sight of the huge black dog.

Finally, the youngest member of the family, called Small (“for short”) wakes up and sees that her whole family is hiding from the black dog. “You are such sillies,” she says, and opens the front door to confront the black dog.

Small then starts running, telling the black dog that if he’s going to eat her, he has to catch her first. The dog follows her, appearing to shrink along the way. By the end of the chase, the dog, no longer looking very big, follows Small into the house. The family members all notice that the dog “was neither as huge nor as scary as they had feared,” and they comment about how brave Small had been to face up to the dog. 

“There was nothing to be scared of, you know,” replied Small.

The story is philosophically interesting in a variety of ways, involving questions about ethics, metaphysics and epistemology, among others. Was Small brave to confront the dog? Did she see him differently than the rest of her family saw him? Why did Small believe that there was nothing to be scared of? Does bravery mean not being afraid? What makes us afraid? What is the connection between bravery and fear? Can the way we see things change them? Can it change us?

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Mark Buzolic

Black Dog sounds remarkably like The Wolf
Author: Margaret Barbalet Illustrator: Jane Tanner Publisher: Macmillan 1991

To quote a review:
"This allegorical story and beautifully illustrated picture book tells a haunting tale of a family who barricade themselves into their house after hearing a wolf howling outside. The family become increasingly paranoid and fear they will never be able to venture outside again. They virtually become prisoners in their own home. A year passes and finally the youngest son opens the door and they have to confront their worst fears. This story is all about keeping things in proportion and learning to face up to fears. This moral is subtly interwoven into the book and the author doesn't preach."

You never see the wolf, (nor is there a father figure in the family) which easily leads to the question "What do you think the wolf is?" and further into examining our ways of dealing with fear and the nature of fear itself.

I read this to a bunch of kids one evening and you could have heard a pin drop.