Brain Pickings

Pioneering Primatologist Jane Goodall’s Children’s Book about the Healing Power of Pet Love


The story of a scruffy white dog makes a heartening case for pet therapy for kids.

As a lover of little-known children’s books by celebrated luminaries — including especial favorites by Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, and Sylvia Plath — I was thrilled to chance upon a signed copy of Dr. White (public library) by none other than beloved primatologist and reconstructionist Jane Goodall.

“It was a cold, wet morning. Dr. White dashed to the hospital. He was late,” the charming 1999 tale begins. But as the hospital cook dries Dr. White’s rain-roused head with a towel, we realize the good “doctor” is in fact a small, shaggy white dog who helps children heal. The story, full of tender and expressive watercolors by Julie Litty, is based on a real pup-healer at a London hospital and bespeaks Goodall’s unflinching faith in the inextricable, in this case life-saving link we share with our fellow non-human beings.

Dr. White’s reign of love, however, is soon interrupted by an antagonistic efforts of a zealous health inspector who refuses to stray from the rules and evicts Dr. White from the hospital.

But when the inspector’s own little girl falls ill, Dr. White sneaks back in with the help of the hospital staff and the situation takes a heartening turn.

Complement Dr. White with more lovely children’s books by famous “adult” authors like Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, and John Updike.

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