Animal-Assisted Literacy Programs Provide a Boost to Children’s Reading

| March 4, 2014
Reading to the Dogs @ Bonner Springs Library.

Reading to the Dogs @ Bonner Springs Library. Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Bonner Springs Library.

Schools and libraries are increasingly seeing the value of programs that allow students to read to pets in order to boost reading skills. To date, such animal-assisted literacy programs are currently operating in 43 states throughout the U.S., as well as in Canada, the UK, Italy and India.1 In fact, as research into the growing numbers of programs such as the Marin Humane Society’s SHARE a book program in California, Literacy Education Assistance Pups (LEAP) in Delaware and Canine-Assisted Reading Education (CARE) in  Washington, DC would seem to suggest, reluctant or struggling readers may in fact be finding substantial gains in reading aloud to dogs and cats.

Literacy programs that rely on animal companions have their roots in the movement of “pet therapy,” a term that was first coined by child psychologist Boris Levinson in 1961.2 In a 1986 study, Filiatre, Millot, and Montagner found that young children who were often shy increased their confidence levels and communication when they interacted with dogs.2 Building on the benefits of bringing dogs into therapy settings, reading programs began to crop up across the country, one of the oldest and most active being Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ), which was founded in 1999 by Sandi Martin of Intermountain Therapy Animals in Salt Lake City, Utah. Since its founding, the organization has participated in several studies on the outcomes of its programs. In one longitudinal study of children aged five to nine, children’s reading scores improved markedly from one year to the next.3 Among the groups who participated in the study, teachers also noticed “decreased absenteeism, increased use of the library, and improved grades on report cards.”3

Perhaps the greatest benefit of pet-assisted literacy programs, however, is the impact they appear to be having on reluctant readers. In a 2011 study by Bassette, reading programs that relied on bringing a pet dog into the classroom were found to potentially “impact student motivation in reading activities.”4 More recently, a classroom teacher in Tampa, Florida brought her dog to school and noticed that her students showed an increase in “self-confidence, oral fluency and overall motivation to read.”2 In classroom settings, libraries and other institutions, educators are increasingly commenting on how dogs and other companion animals provide a nonjudgmental audience for students to practice reading aloud and improve their overall reading fluency.

Parents and teachers interested in enrolling their kids in animal-assisted reading programs can contact a local office of a national organization such as READ, or get in touch with a nearby animal shelter who can help them find local dog therapy groups which visit local schools.3 It goes without saying that the animals who visit schools must be specifically trained to work with young learners; they must enjoy being pet, must know basic commands, and cannot be frightened by the loud noises which occur in the classroom or local library. The process for volunteering or enlisting your pet is often quite lengthy, but can also be very rewarding!

Thinking of getting your own kids or the children in your local school to love books by having them practice reading aloud to a sociable dog or cat? Try some of the following stories about animals available at the library at Teachers College, which are sure to amuse both kids and pets alike!


1 Delisle, E., & Friesen, L. (2012). Animal-assisted literacy: a supportive environment for constrained and unconstrained learning. Childhood Education, 88(2), 102+.

2 Shannon Zavada,

3 Jalongo, M. R. (2005). “What are all these Dogs Doing at School?”: Using Therapy Dogs to Promote Children’s Reading Practice. Childhood Education,81(3), 152-158.

4 Bassette, L. A. (2011). Reading with maggie: The effect of the presence/absence of a classroom pet dog in a reading intervention package. (Order No. 3507210, Purdue University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 169. Retrieved from (1015169910).

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Enokson

Stories about Dogs

Good boy, Fergus! / David Shannon PZ7.S52865 Goo 2006

Except for his bath, Fergus experiences the perfect doggy day, from chasing cats and motorcycles to being scratched on his favorite tickle spot.

Widget / Lyn Rossiter McFarland ; pictures by Jim McFarland PZ7.M4784614 Wi 2001

A small stray dog is accepted into a household full of cats by learning to “fit in”, but when his mistress is hurt, he demonstrates that being a dog is not all bad.

Two dog biscuits / Beverly Cleary ; illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo Ryan  PZ7.C5792 Two 1996

Four-year-old twins in search of a dog to eat their two dog biscuits find all the dogs undeserving and so they look for another recipient.

Howliday Inn / by James Howe ; illustrated by Lynn Munsinger PZ7.H83727 Howl 1982

While their family is away, Harold and Chester, a dog and a cat, are boarded at Chateau Bow-Wow where Chester becomes increasingly alarmed by the strange behavior of his fellow guests and the sudden disappearance of one of them.

Good luck, Ronald Morgan / by Patricia Reilly Giff ; illustrated by Susanna Natti PZ7 .G3626 Go 1999

Ronald Morgan needs lots of luck not only to train the dog which he just received for his birthday but also to win the friendship of his new neighbor.

Shaggy / by Marcus Pfister [and] translated by Lenny Hort PZ7.P448558 Sh 1990

A children’s story about a shaggy dog who lived in a junkyard and his problem with rats. It tells about how a cat came to help him and became his friend.

Henry and Mudge : the first book of their adventures / story by Cynthia Rylant ; pictures by Suçie Stevenson PZ7.R982 Hlk 1990

Henry, feeling lonely on a street without any other children, finds companionship and love in a big dog named Mudge.

Henry and Mudge and the great grandpas : the twenty-sixth book of their adventures / story by Cynthia Rylant ; pictures by Suçie Stevenson. PZ7.R982 Heamg 2005

When Henry and his dog Mudge go with Henry’s parents to visit Great-Grandpa Bill in the home with lots of other grandpas, they lead them all on a wonderful adventure.

Henry and Mudge take the big test / story by Cynthia Rylant ; pictures by Suçie Stevenson PZ7.R982 Hlj 1991

After eight weeks at Papp’s Dog School, Henry’s dog Mudge earns a certificate and lots of liver treats.

Henry and Mudge and the wild wind : the twelfth book of their adventures / story by Cynthia Rylant ; pictures by Suçie Stevenson PZ7.R982 Heb 1993

Henry and his big dog Mudge try to keep busy inside the house during a thunderstorm.

Henry and Mudge under the yellow moon : the fourth book of their adventures / story by Cynthia Rylant ; pictures by Suçie Stevenson PZ7.R982 Hm 1988

In the autumn Henry and his big dog Mudge watch the leaves turn, meet with some Halloween spooks and share Thanksgiving dinner.

Jolly Roger, a dog of Hoboken / by Daniel M. Pinkwater PZ7.P6335 Jo 1985  (Closed Stacks)

Chronicles the adventures of the remarkable canine who became the undisputed king of Hoboken’s dockside dogs.

Old Mother Hubbard / Jane Cabrera PZ8.3.C122 Ol 2001

Based on The comic adventures of Old Mother Hubbard and her dog, by Sarah Catherine Martin, originally published in London, 1805, by John Harris.

A dog came, too : a true story / by Ainslie Manson ; pictures by Ann Blades SF426.5 M25 1993

Recounts the adventures of Our Dog, the dog who accompanied Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie on his journey across Canada to the Pacific Ocean and thus became the first dog to cross the North American continent by land.

Harry, the dirty dog [videorecording] / by Gene Zion ; illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham PZ7.H3 Har 1997

Tells the story of Harry, a white dog with black spots who runs away from home because he hates getting a bath. After many adventures and visits to dirty places, Harry returns home only to be recognized as a black dog with white spots.

Barry, the bravest Saint Bernard / by Lynn Hall ; illustrated by Antonio Castro CURR SF429.S3 H35 1992

Relates the feats of Barry, the St. Bernard dog whose name, to this day, honors the best dog at the St. Bernard Monastery.

Love that dog / Sharon Creech PZ7.C8615 Lo 2001

A young student, who comes to love poetry through a personal understanding of what different famous poems mean to him, surprises himself by writing his own inspired poem.

The Incredible Life of Balto / Meghan McCarthy

“Most people know the story of Balto, the world famous dog who led his dogsled team through a blizzard to deliver a lifesaving serum to the stricken people of Nome, Alaska, in 1925. But what happened to Balto after the hoopla died down? With a lively, informative text and humorous, vibrant illustrations, Meghan McCarthy captures the extraordinary life of Balto beyond his days as a celebrity.”


Raining cats and dogs / written by Jane Yolen ; illustrated by Janet Street PS3575.O43 R45 1993

A collection of nine poems about cats and nine poems about dogs, bound together in an upside-down book.

Bow wow meow meow : it’s rhyming cats and dogs / poems and paintings by Douglas Florian PS3556.L589 B69 2003

Dog log — The Chihuahua — The bloodhound — The bulldog — The poodles — The pointers — The sheepdog — The Dalmatian — The whippet — The wolf — The dachshund — Cat chat — The Persian — The cheetah — The ocelot — The Siamese — The lion — The Manx — The leopard — The jaguarundi — The black panther

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Raider of Gin

Stories about Cats

My cat, the silliest cat in the world / written and illustrated by Gilles Bachelet PZ7.B13213 Myc 2006

An artist describes his cat, who can usually be found either sleeping or eating.

We’re all different but we’re all kitty cats. First day of school / by Peter J. Goodman ; illustrated by Nicolás Milano PZ7.G66 Wer 2012

When Carlos announces on the first day of school that he is a hairless kitty cat, his feline schoolmates show the way to respect his differences and help him discover what makes him unique.

Jazz cats / by David Davis ; illustrated by Chuck Galey PZ8.3.D28942 Jaz 2001

Cool cats entertain the crowds with their music in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Cat’s colors / Jane Cabrera PZ7.C1135 Cat 1997

A cat describes ten different colors and tells which one is its favorite.

The cat’s meow / Gary Soto ; illustrated by Joe Cepeda PZ7.S7242 Cat 1995

Eight-year-old Graciela, who is half Mexican, is amazed when her cat Pip starts speaking in Spanish.

My cats Nick and Nora / Isabelle Harper ; illustrated by Barry Moser PZ7.H23133 Mw 1995

Two young girls spend a day playing with two spirited cats.

Cats and robbers / by Jan Wahl ; illustrated by Dolores Avendaño PZ8.3.W133 Cat 1995

When she lets lots of cats into her house to get rid of the mice that are keeping her awake, old Mrs. Mudge finds that she has a new problem on her hands.

The twenty-five Mixtec cats / Matthew Gollub ; pictures by Leovigildo Martinez PZ7.G583 Tw 1993

The inhabitants of a mountain village are suspicious of the twenty-five cats who come to live with their healer, until the cats are able to help lift a curse placed on the butcher.

Sailor cats / by Emily Whittle ; illustrated by Jeri Burdickm PZ7.W61884 Sai 1993

Bored with the summer heat, two cats sail out to sea to learn what it is like to be sailors.

Cat’s knees & bee’s whiskers / Sandy Nightingale PZ7.N583 Cat 1993

Baldrick the cat studies hard to become an expert witch’s cat, but he runs into trouble when he tries out a new spell without supervision.

Raining cats and dogs / written by Jane Yolen ; illustrated by Janet Street PS3575.O43 R45 1993

A collection of nine poems about cats and nine poems about dogs, bound together in an upside-down book.

Good cats / Charles Ghigna ; illustrated by David Catrow PS3557.H5 G66 1992

A humorous look at both sides of a cat’s personality.

If dinosaurs were cats and dogs / Colin McNaughton PZ8.3.M46 If 1991

Rhyming text and illustrations show what would happen if dogs, cats, frogs, chickens, and other sorts of animals were dinosaurs and lived during the time of man

Cats sleep anywhere : a poem / by Eleanor Farjeon ; pictures by Mary Price Jenkins PR6011.A67 C35 1990

Cats sleep on tables, chairs, sofas, in closets, in shoeboxes–all around the house.

The cat’s pajamas / Mark Burgess PZ8.3.B9524 Cat 1990

Captain Cat and his enthusiastic but incapable animal crew set off on a humorous journey. Turning a wheel completes the verse on each spread of illustrations by revealing the correct rhyming word and the section of illustration to match the choice.

Cats by Mother Goose / selected by Barbara Lucas ; pictures by Carol Newsom PZ8.3 .M85 1986 (closed stacks)

A collection of twenty-one Mother Goose rhymes about cats, including “As I was going to St. Ives” and “Ding, dong, dell, Pussy’s in the well.”

Moe McTooth : an alley cat’s tale / by Eileen Spinelli ; illustrated by Linda Bronson PZ7.S7566 Mo 2003

When the weather turned cold and snowy, the alley cat Moe McTooth was glad to become an apartment cat, until the return of spring made him long for the outdoors.

Nero Corleone : a cat’s story / by Elke Heidenreich ; illustrated by Quint Buchholz ; translated by Doris Orgel PZ7.H36155 Ni 1997

A bold and self-serving tom cat reigns supreme both in the farmyard in Italy where he was born and later in the comfortable home in Germany to which a vacationing couple takes him and his helpless sister

Won-Ton : a cat tale told in haiku / Lee Wardlaw ; illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. PZ7.W2174 Won 2011

A cat arrives at a shelter, arranges to go home with a good family, and settles in with them, all the while letting them know who is boss and, finally, sharing his real name.

The Cheshire Cheese cat : a Dickens of a tale / Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright ; drawings by Barry Moser. PZ7.D3587 Ch 2011

A community of mice and a cheese-loving cat form an unlikely alliance at London’s Cheshire Cheese, an inn where Charles Dickens finds inspiration and Queen Victoria makes an unexpected appearance.

Nini lost and found / Anita Lobel. PZ7.L7794 Nip 2010

Nini Cat enjoys her outdoor adventure until she ventures too far and can’t find her way home.

Wabi Sabi / Mark Reibstein ; art by Ed Young. PZ7.R262 Wa 2008

Wabi Sabi, a cat living in the city of Kyoto, learns about the Japanese concept of beauty through simplicity as she asks various animals she meets about the meaning of her name.

The cat, or, how I lost eternity / Jutta Richter ; translated by Anna Brailovsky ; [with illustrations by Rotraut Susanne Berner] PZ7.R41544 Cat 2007

Eight-year-old Christine is late for school every day because a talking alley cat demands her attention, giving her much to think about as he tries to teach her to be spiteful and pitiless.

The amazing story of Adolphus Tips / by Michael Morpurgo. PZ7.M82712 Ama 2006

When Boowie reads the diary that his grandmother sends him, he learns of her childhood in World War II England when American and British soldiers practiced for D-Day’s invasion in the area of her home, and about her beloved cat, Adolphus Tips, and the cat’s namesake.

Whittington / by Alan Armstrong ; illustrated by S.D. Schindler. PZ10.3.A8625 Wh 2005

Whittington, a feline descendant of Dick Whittington’s famous cat of English folklore, appears at a rundown barnyard plagued by rats and restores harmony while telling his ancestor’s story.

Kitten’s first full moon / Kevin Henkes PZ7.H389 Ki 2004

When Kitten mistakes the full moon for a bowl of milk, she ends up tired, wet, and hungry trying to reach it.

Hairy, scary, ordinary : what is an adjective? / by Brian P. Cleary ; illustrated by Jenya Prosmitsky PE1241 .C57 2000

Rhyming text and illustrations of comical cats present numerous examples of adjectives, from “hairy, scary, cool, and ordinary” to “tan and tall,” “funny, frisky, smooth, and small.”

A dark, dark tale / Ruth Brown PZ7.B81698 Da 1994

Journeying through an abandoned house, a black cat surprises its only inhabitant.

Stories to tell a cat / collected and retold by Alvin Schwartz ; illustrated by Catherine Huerta PZ8.1.S399 St 1992

A collection of cat stories drawn from folklore, some realistic and some fanciful.