Dogger is a toy, but not just any toy. Dogger is Dave’s favourite toy – and this is the tale of the day he goes missing.

Shirley Hughes is one of the undisputed greats in the world of children’s picture books and this tale is a brilliant example of why. After all, it takes a rare kind of talent to truly empathise with your reader – in this case, preschoolers. For Shirley Hughes, this empathy is instinctive. Tales of fantasy and fairytale have their place, but often what resonates most with the very youngest of readers are those dramas that arise from ordinary life.

Dave is very fond of Dogger, a soft, brown toy dog with a kind, smiley face and fur that’s worn in places. He goes everywhere with Dave, needs the occasional wash in warm soapy water and, come bedtime, must be tucked up safely with his owner. Sound familiar? Many a young reader will have just such a beloved toy. And so young hearts will be stricken when, one bedtime, Dogger is nowhere to be found.

Shirley Hughes’ illustrations are rich and warm, sweeping readers into a familiar domestic world. And children will identify immediately with how poor Dave is feeling, hunkering down beneath the bedcovers with a forlorn expression on his face after a top-to-bottom search of the house for his favourite toy proves fruitless

The day after Dogger’s mysterious disappearance the local school is hosting a fair. It’s a lively occasion – and a panoramic view of the school field reveals all manner of exciting stalls, from a coconut shie at 10p a throw to rails of ‘nearly new clothes’. There’s a fancy dress competition, and lots of races, too. But when you’re missing your favourite toy, even a school fair doesn’t feel like much fun.

Sad and dejected, Dave wanders off to look at the toy stall. And lo and behold, who does he spy nestling amongst the toys! There’s a heart-in-the-mouth finale, with the intervention of a heroic big sister (surely one of life’s biggest blessings to younger siblings everywhere) resulting in a reassuring ending.

This is one of those handy-to-have titles in a child’s library – after all, it is a rare child that goes through childhood without the loss of a very special toy, and this is just the book to have in the parenting toolkit for that moment. However, be warned, after your child hears this tale, you may find yourself dragged to toy tables at school fetes and fairs across the country in an attempt to locate any loved and lost toy.

See Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, talk about this book in her round-up of great children’s books at London’s 2012 Book Fair (main image above, simply click on the arrow to watch). 

Author Notes British author Shirley Hughes grew up in Cheshire and studied drawing and costume design first at Liverpool School of Art and then the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford. Hughes has been creating picture books for over 50 years. The first book she wrote and illustrated was Lucy & Tom’s Day, published in 1960. When Dogger was published in 1977, it won the acclaimed Kate Greenaway Award. Hughes won this prestigious prize a second time in 2003 for her book Ella’s Big Chance – a retelling of the Cinderella fairytale. She has written over 50 stories for children – among her most famous are the Alfie and the Olly and Me series, and in 1999, she was awarded an OBE for her services to children’s literature.