Among the gems in my collection of second hand books is a children’s book called “The Smallest Puppy” written by daughter-mother team Margaret S. Johnson and Helen Lossing Johnson and published in 1940 by Harcourt, Brace and Company in New York. A handwritten dedication on the flyleaf reveals that the book was a Christmas gift to Donna Jean from her uncle Kenneth in 1945. That was 67 years ago…
The main character in “The Smallest Puppy” is a Malamute puppy called “Bena” who wants to be a sled dog but is told that he is too small to work on the team. The story itself is very sweet but the main attractions of this book are the illustrations, as they were inspired by real life Malamutes. In the acknowledgment page the authors thank Mrs. Milton Seeley of Chinook Kennels, New Hampshire, for her courtesy in allowing them to use her Alaskan Malamutes as models for the drawings in this book.
For a “Malanut” like myself, it’s fascinating to know that the Seeleys’ historic Kotzebue Mals inspired these illustrations. When the book was published in 1940, the Alaskan Malamute had only been recognized by the AKC for five years.
Margaret Sweet Johnson (1893-1964) and her mother, Helen Lossing Johnson (1865-1946), are well known for their children’s books about dogs and other animals. They often chose to feature breeds that were relatively unknown to the public and their books remain popular because of the realistic breed portrayals and beautiful drawings which clearly present the characteristics of each breed. In “The Smallest Puppy” I particularly notice the Malamutes’ big feet, their strong and well-muscled rear legs and broad heads with correct ear sets. Some of the dogs seem to lack stop, not sure if that was characteristic of the Malamutes of Chinook Kennels or if this detail of the Malamute head was particularly difficult to reproduce. The moral of the story is that the Alaskan Malamute is a sled dog of the north that is not suited for life as a house pet. I wonder if the book inspired Donna Jean to become a Malamute owner later in life, and if she remembers receiving this book for Christmas, back in December 1945.