Review By CAROLYN M. MULLIN
Animals used for therapeutic services are seen all over the American landscape, but their presence in children’s literature is just now making its foray. After chronicling her struggles with the real-life Toby (read: destructive, erratic behavior) in the adult work On Toby’s Terms, author Charmaine Hammond scripted the first in a series for kids – Toby the Pet Therapy Dog and His Hospital Friends.
This early reader is a basic introduction to the purpose and need of therapy animals. Toby, referred to as (my pet peeve) “it” only once, is the canine companion of Miss Charmaine, who takes him every Wednesday to the local hospital. Toby visits with and cheers up patients both young and old. He accompanies an elderly woman on her walk, falls asleep during storytime, and helps a young girl overcome her fear of dogs. All in a day’s work!
But working is also where my contention lies in general with this subject of therapy animals. Why should they be defined by their “purpose”? Can they not simply exist for their own intrinsic value? Sure, these themes and ideas may be better broached with an older audience, but language is an important educator no matter what a person’s age. The book does provide basic critical thinking questions to pose to a child, but I’d be interested to further ask “What is service?” and “When is it best given? Freely?”
Overall, Hammond carries out a tenderhearted telling of an important relationship within the human-animal bond, and the illustrations are painterly, sweet and honest. This book is a great starting point for any child curious about animals trained for therapy.
Ages 4 to 8.