The main theme of Along Came a Dog involves the need to be accepted. This theme is developed both through the dog’s desperate attempts to find a home and through the hen’s repeated returns to the flock even though she is attacked for being toeless.
Although Joe drives the dog away each time that he comes to the farm, the dog persistently returns because he knows that Joe is kind and good. He also knows that he needs a home, and he makes the farm his home even before Joe accepts him. The dog adopts the Little Red Hen and learns from her and the other chickens how to behave on the farm. For example, he learns that whole eggs are not for him, but broken eggs can be eaten without remorse or punishment. He also seems to know intuitively that the chickens are not for him to eat, although he would obviously enjoy them as a meal. Instead, he survives on the grain that Joe tosses on the ground for the flock, broken eggs, and some parsnips that he finds in last year’s garden.
Although the hen does not seem to be explicitly aware of an emotional need to be accepted, it is necessary for her to be accepted by the flock in order to survive physically. Because of her lack of toes, she is lowered to the last position in the pecking order and, as a result, is often attacked by the easily enraged chickens. Consequently, she is often unable to eat without the dog’s protection. Furthermore, because of her toeless feet, she is unable to grip the chicken ladder and therefore cannot sleep in the coop with the other chickens. She is forced to spend the long dark nights in the barnyard. If the dog did not accept her and decide to protect her, she probably would not have survived the dangers of the night. De Jong is careful to point out that all chickens are helpless in the dark, since they are unable to see anything without the assistance of light. As a result, whenever the hen is in danger during the night, she...
(The entire section is 789 words.)
Animal stories have been a popular form of children’s literature throughout history. From Aesop’s fables to Jack London’s dog stories, there is a long tradition of addressing important issues through the use of animals as characters. Meindert De Jong participated in this tradition, not only with Along Came a Dog but also with many of his other works, including The Last Little Cat (1961), Puppy Summer (1966), and A Horse Came Running (1970). Most of De Jong’s works focus on the themes of loneliness and prejudice.
Although De Jong was seen as an old-fashioned writer toward the end of his career, in his prime he was well known and highly honored. He was awarded several Newbery honors, as well as the Hans Christian Andersen Award for the complete body of his work. His style may be dated, but his themes are universal and his characters—both human and animal—are well developed. He both acknowledges that prejudice exists in the world and offers hope that it can be overcome.