Name of Book: Dog Heaven
Author: Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator: Cynthia Rylant
Publisher: The Blue Sky Press
Audience: Ages 4 and up.
Summary: Any child or former child who has ever lost a beloved pet wonders what plan God has for that pet’s afterlife. Dog Heaven creatively answers that question about the canines which have traveled beyond this earthly life. As it turns out, Heaven is a pretty nifty place for dogs, designed as it is by a God who is thoughtful, loving, and quirky.
Literary elements at work in the story: Dog Heaven reads a bit like a travelogue. We learn that the first thing dogs encounter in Dog Heaven is fields, “because God knows that dogs love running best.” God apparently also knows that dogs love children, dog biscuits (in funny shapes, like kitty-cats, ham biscuits and squirrels), comfy beds (clouds turned inside out), and, of course, the people who loved them on earth. Rylant’s flat, boldly colorful acrylic paintings reveal this setting in illustrations that might have been created by the very children who will be reading the book. The text has a comforting matter-of-fact tone, likely to provide reassurance to the reader as it describes the place where all good dogs go. Of course, “Every dog becomes a good dog in Dog Heaven.”
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Dogs and angels come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and races in this story. One wonders, then, why God is pictured as an elderly Caucasian man with a purple pork-pie hat.
Theological conversation partners: There are sure to be those who would argue that there is no scriptural basis for animals of any sort going to Heaven. Rylant, and presumably anyone whose heart has ever been captured by a pet, might counter that there are plenty of assurances that God loves God’s creation.
As we see on the fifth and sixth days of creation (Genesis 1:20-31), God creates all the living things of the water, the skies, and the earth, and God is well-pleased with these creations and with the paradise in which they will live. God’s joy in providing what is good is echoed in Dog Heaven. The underlying theological theme of this book is that God loves and understands the creatures which God has created and provides what is best for each. The many scriptural assurances of God’s love and comfort are also likely theological conversation partners which could be used in conjunction with this book. Psalm 23 promises that God will be with us in good times and in bad. Matthew 6:26 declares that God feeds the birds of the air and will watch after us, too. Isaiah 25:8 says that “the LORD will swallow up death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.”
Faith talk questions:
- How do you think God felt when all the animals of earth were created?
- What are some of the ways that God takes care of all of God’s creatures on earth?
- How does Cynthia Rylant imagine that God continues to take care of dogs in Heaven?
- Have you ever had a pet that died?
- How did you feel?
- What do you think God might say to you when you are sad?
- Imagine your pet in each one of these pictures. What do you think God might say to your pet?
This review was written by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Beth Lyon-Suhring.
Dog Heaven by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.