Animals in Literature

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The Tenth Good Thing About Barney

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney is a first person narrative of a young boy trying to comprehend and come to terms with the death of his cat, Barney. To help him cope, the boy’s mother encourages her son to think of ten good things about Barney, but the boy can only think of nine. While talking with his father, the boy figures out the tenth good thing.

Why use this book?

  • Highlights the strong connection and relationship people can have with an animal, known as the human-animal bond.
  • Addresses pet loss in a positive and realistic manor. Often the first loss children experience is that of a beloved pet. Books can provide an opportunity to discuss and deal with emotions about loss and grief in a healthy way.

Animal Welfare Considerations:

  • n/a

Ask your students:

  • How did the boy react to the death of his cat Barney?
  • What do you do when you feel sad? What helps you feel better?
  • Why do you think the author, Judith Viorst, wrote this story for children? Discuss how people react differently to death. Introduce the terms ‘grief’ and ‘grieve’ if students are unfamiliar.
  • The parents showed empathy and compassion to their children. What are some examples from the book that demonstrates this?
  • What was the tenth good thing about Barney?


  • Showing Compassion – Have students create a web that shows how the different characters demonstrated compassion for the boy. Father – helped the boy plant seeds in the garden. Mother – gave the boy a hug, encouraged the boy to write ten good things. Annie – gave the boy flowers.
  • Ten Good Things – Have students write ten good things about someone they know. This could be a friend, a family member, or a pet. This exercise could continue for a week, asking students to choose someone or something different to write ten good things about.
  • Sympathy Card – Have students design a sympathy card for someone who has recently lost a pet or for the boy in the story. Students can choose to include a poem about a pet or suggestions on how to feel better.
  • Animal Life Spans – In pairs, have students create a list of ten animals and then have them research their life spans. Finally, ask students to order the animals according to their life spans from least to greatest. Some pets like hamsters have shorter life spans than others like cats. Discuss with students why life span might be important to consider when getting a pet.

Resources Related to Book:


Judith Viorst, 1971


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