Book Review: Martha Walks the Dog

by Susan Meddaugh
Reading level: Kindergarten–Grade 3

Ever since she ate her first bowl of alphabet soup, Martha the dog has developed the gift of gab…sometimes to a fault. Her ingenious monologues and impressive vocabulary make her the life of the party, but they also can get her into trouble.

Out for her walk one day, Martha encounters new neighbors: an aggressive dog and his equally belligerent owner, whose own vocabulary seems to be limited to a roared, “Bad dog, Bob! Bad dog!” Martha tries to ignore Bob’s lunges and snarls, but her patience finally wears thin and, alas, our mild-mannered heroine’s loquaciousness takes a nasty turn. She tries to stand up for her friend Cisco (“a manly poodle, but he was no match for Bob”) when he strays into Bob’s danger zone. From her apparent safety beyond the reach of Bob’s chain, Martha calls the bigger dog names—“Ruffian! Thug! MEANIE!”—not realizing until too late that Bob has chewed through his chain.

When the ensuing chase winds up below a parrot’s window, both Bob and Martha are in for a pleasant surprise. “Good dog! Good dog!” squawks the bird. Bob responds to the positive treatment, and even his owner mellows immediately when he sees his smiling pooch. In a happy twist of fate, it is the parrot, whom Martha herself (on an earlier neighborhood ramble) had taught to repeat such upbeat words, who saves the day.

Social and Emotional Lessons in Martha Walks the Dog

Bob and his owner, though clearly in need of some social and emotional skill upgrades, are not the only ones due for a lesson on appropriate behavior. Genial Martha resorts to one of the lower forms of negative response as soon as she’s annoyed enough—and when she thinks she’s out of Bob’s range. It’s a slippery slope from name-calling to bullying. It might seem cute when the worst epithet a small child can come up with is “meanie,” but damage can be done early and often. Once that alienating practice begins, it’s easy to continue down the path to more isolating and cruel habits. The calls of the parrot show everyone involved that there is a better way.


A class discussion is a great way to think through the lessons learned in the book. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What are the names of the dogs in the story?
  • Does Martha call Bob by his real name?
  • How do you think Bob feels when Martha calls him names?
  • How do you think Bob feels when his owner yells at him?
  • Why do you think Bob barks at Martha and her friends?
  • How do you think Bob feels when the parrot says, “Good dog!”?
  • Have you ever been called a name you didn’t like? How did you feel?
  • Have you ever called someone a name they didn’t like? How do you think she or he felt?
  • What might you do if you saw someone picking on someone else?
  • Do you think Bob might become friends now with Martha and Cisco and all the other neighborhood pets? What can they all do to make it work?

Emilie Coulter
Book Reviewer
Committee for Children