Book Review: “First Dog Fala”, Written By Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, Illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery

Today Mom gave me my first American History lesson.

Frankly, Mom had a lesson in American History herself.

Mom told me she was never very good in history when she was a young pup in school, so she was happy to learn a lot of interesting and fun things while reading me First Dog Fala,  which was written by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk and illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery.

Mom was given the book First Dog Fala for me to read and review. She knew that Fala was the adorable Scottish Terrier  that was owned by President Franklin D.Roosevelt. She didn’t remember this fact from school. Nope, she remembered it because Fala is a frequent answer in the New York Times crossword puzzles that  Mom used to be addicted to. That was before the days of computers of course.

Mom told me that throughout history it is a well-known fact that many Presidents had dogs by their sides while they carried out the most important job of the United States,  that of being President.

Here is a partial list of some American Presidents and the names and breeds of the dogs that they owned. When Mom and I researched this we saw that there are TONS! We will only list a few:


1974 – 1977 Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford owned a Golden Retriever called Liberty who gave birth to nine puppies at the White House.

1993 – 2001  President Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton owned a chocolate Labrador called Buddy

2009 President Barack Obama
From the beginning of his presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to buy his daughters Malia and Sasha a dog whether he won the presidential election or not. In January 2009, President Obama kept
his word and ‘Amigo’s New Hope’ which his daughters have nicknamed ‘Bo’ moved into the Whitehouse. Bo is a black-and-white Portuguese water dog and was a gift from Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who also owns Portuguese water dogs. Portuguese water dogs are known as working dogs and are recognised for their intelligence, strength, and stamina.

this  partial list came from: American Presidents Dogs if you would like to see how many more Presidents had dogs just click on the link.

“Meet the Scottish terrier who won the heart of a U.S. president and the hearts of the American people.”

First Dog Fala is for children (and doggies) ages 4-8  (although Mom thinks that has to be some pretty smart four-year olds if they would be able to understand the concept of being President.

The book details how President Roosevelt acquired Fala, some historical events that took place while he was President and owned Fala and gives us some insight about what Fala’s personality and life at the White House was like.

There are a number of things that Mom and I enjoyed about First Dog Fala.

  • It is interesting
  • It is highly educational
  • It makes learning fun because children are learning about Fala and are so caught up in the story about Fala that they don’t even realize they are having a history lesson  at the same time
  • The  marvelous,  deeply rich  illustrations!

Mom is pretty artistic so the illustrations by Michael G. Montgomery really caught her eye. She told me they looked like they were done in the style of the era that President Roosevelt was in office  (World War II). Mom said they had an “old-time” feel and they looked like paintings, not just illustrations.  They also reminded Mom of  newspaper photographs from the 1940s,  only in color (back in those days newspapers didn’t have color photos like they do now). Mom was completely smitten by the portrait quality of the illustrations  and felt they were the perfect companion to the wonderfully written and interesting story of Fala.


This would be the perfect “Back-to-school” book.  Mom isn’t sure if they still do book reports in elementary school but if they do (and even if they don’t!) , she strongly suggests First Dog Fala for those students in 5th, 4th, or 3rd grade.

  • Hardcover: $16.95
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-411-2
  • Total Pages: 32
  • Size: 10 7/8 x 8 3/8
  • Language: English
  • Rights: World
  • Status: active



Elizabeth Van Steenwyk is the award-winning author of more than 70 published books for young people. After graduating from Knox College, she went on to spend ten years writing for radio and television with a concentration on children’s programming. She lives in California.


Michael G. Montgomery has illustrated numerous children’s books. He attended Georgia Southern University and the University of Georgia. Montgomery lives in Georgia.

You can visit Michael G. Montgomery’s website here.



KC3 Reading Program (nominee) ―Greater Kansas City Association of School Librarians 2010-2011

California Collection (elementary) ―California Readers

Kansas State Reading Circle Recommended Reading List (intermediate) ―Kansas National Education Association

KIND Children’s Honorable Mention Book ―Humane Society Youth

Teachers’ Choices (primary) ―IRA













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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Love it! WHat an interesting life Fala must have had!

    • Hi Sara! I agree! If you read the book you will see it was even more interesting than we would have thought!

      Barks and licks and love, Dakota

  2. Lovely Dakota and mum!! Thank you for another fine review of a most adorable book!! It sounds so lovely and the illustrations are amazing! Fala sounds like a really gorgeous First Dog!! Wonderful! take care

    • @Old Kitty you are most welcome and Mom and I are glad that you liked it! It IS completely “lovely” and I also adore the illustrations. You both take care too! Barks and licks and love, Dakota

  3. First Dog Fala sounds interesting!!!

    Hmmm… how about us, shelties??? I’m the FIRST dog at home but I’m wondering whether there are any shelties who are the FIRST DOG of a country?

    • Hi Eva!

      I did read there was a President who had a bunch of Collies, that is the closet anyone came to having a Sheltie. I think it’s cause we bark at cars too much

      Barks and licks and love, Dakota

  4. Hi Dakota,

    Another great review buddy! My human brother does book reviews for school but I don’t think he’s been lucky enough to get a Doggy book yet! Maybe one day! 🙂

    Glad you’re having fun,

    Your pal Snoopy 🙂

    • Hi Snoopy! Thanks much!

      I bet if your human brother gets a doggie book you could help him!

      I am tired, time to go to bed now.

      Barks and licks and love, Dakota

  5. I agree with your mom…the ilustration is beautiful and looks like painting. If only all educative books look that interesting, more kids will enjoy studying history 😉

    My favorite author, Stephen King, owns a cat. Not sure whether he has a dog or not. How bout your mom’s favorite author?

    • Hi Novroz!

      My Mom said she never knew that Stephen King liked cats! I bet he likes dogs too!

      My Mom is embarrassed to say that she doesn’t read as much as she should. She mostly reads pet books (due to reviews and not having much time to read anything else)…she can’t think of the name of the author but she loves the books by the author who wrote “The Notebook” oh and of course Dr.Seuss!!


      Barks and licks and love, Dakota

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