Beautiful Joe by Margaret Marshall Saunders

This is a lovely children’s classic written in 1893 by Canadian author Margaret Marshall Saunders. It is based on a true story and told in the first person from Joe, the dog’s, point of view. I picked up my copy in a gift shop on vacation in Nova Scotia some years back.

from the back cover:
Beautiful Joe, a mongrel dog, was cruelly mutilated by his maser and through pure good fortune was brought to the Morrisses – to Miss Laura – who nursed him back to health. This tale of tender devotion between a dog and his owners is a timeless classic that brought Halifax writer Margaret Marshall Saunders much acclaim. At the time of her death in 1947 she was described as ‘Canada’s Most Revered Writer.’

This profoundly touching narrative, told by Beautiful Joe himself, has promoted interest in the humane treatment of animals. It also brings to light issues about farming and farm animals that are as timely today as they were more than a century ago when Saunders wrote this book.

I did enjoy this lovely story and fell in love with Joe. It was a little preachy, but the love story between Joe and the family, especially Laura, was very touching. It really made a statement about animal abuse in all forms. It is a wonderful book for children and I am looking forward to reading it to my grandkids. The Morris kids are always bringing home injured animals to nurse to health, Davy the rat, Malta the cat, Billy another dog, and there are birds too. It is a great conversation starter with your kids about treating animals with dignity and respect as they are God’s creation too. Although it is a little gory with the details as Joe is being abused in the beginning, but it opens your eyes to the severity of the issue.

A few quotes from the book…

“This one, pointing to me, ‘might be held up as an example to many a human being. He is patient, quiet, and obedient. My husband says that he reminds him of three words in the Bible- ‘through much tribulation.'”
  “Why does he say that? asked Mrs. Montaue, curiously.
  “Because he came to us from a very unhappy home.” And Mrs. Morris went on to tell her friend what she knew of my early days.
When she stopped, Mrs. Montague’s face was shocked and pained.

Two days later … ‘Mrs. Montague’s son Charlie came to the house, he brought something for me done up in a white paper. Mrs. Morris opened it and there was a handsome, nickel-plated collar, with  my name it – Beautiful Joe. Wasn’t I pleased! They took off the little shabby leather strap that the boys had given me when i came, and fastened on my new collar, and then Mrs. Morris held me up to a looking glass to look at my self. I felt so happy. Up to this time I had felt a little ashamed of my cropped ears and docked tail, but now that I had a fine new collar I could hold up my head with any dog.’

And speaking of abuse of birds for their plumage…

“I am sorry to tell you such painful things, but I think you ought to know them. You will soon be men and women. Do what you can to stop this horrid trade. Our beautiful birds are being taken from us, and the insect pests are increasing. The State of Massachusetts has lost over one hundred thousand dollars because it did not protect its birds. The gypsy moth stripped the trees near Boston and the State had to pay out all this money, and even then could not get rid of the moths. The birds could have done it better than the State, but they were all gone. My last words to you are, ‘Protect the birds.'”

There is lots of great conversation between the animals also!

The real Joe was an Airedale-type dog, brown and medium in size. His owner abused him to almost the point of death even cutting off his ears and tail. Ms. Saunders sister-in-law’s father had rescued him in 1890. Ms. Saunders learned of Joe in 1892 and wrote the full length novel in 1893. She changed the family’s name and the setting of the story to Maine, USA to enter it in a contest being run by the American Humane Society. It won and was published in 1894. It was the first Canadian book to sell over 1 million copies and by 1939 had sold over 7 million worldwide. In 1902 a sequel , Beautiful Joe’s Paradise, was published.

There is a lovely historical plaque in Ontario for Beautiful Joe, see it here.

In 1994 The Beautiful Joe Heritage Society was formed to honor the life and story of Joe and the literary and humane achievements of Ms. Saunders.

You can purchase a book format of this book (new or used) in many places online, including thru the Heritage Society or download a free ebook format at Project Gutenberg here.


Ms. Saunders was born in Milton, Nova Scotia, though she spent most of her childhood in Berwick, Nova Scotia where her father was a Baptist minister.

Bibliography for Ms. Saunders…

  • My Spanish Sailor (1889)
  • Beautiful Joe (1893)
  • Charles and His Lamb (1895)
  • For the Other Boy’s Sake, and Other Stories (1896)
  • The House of Armour (1897)
  • The King of the Park (1897)
  • Deficient Saints (1899)
  • For His Country (1900)
  • Her Sailor (1900)
  • Tilda Jane, An Orphan In Search of a Home (1901)
  • Beautiful Joe’s Paradise (1902)
  • Nita, the Story of an Irish Setter (1904)
  • The Story of Gravelys (1904)
  • Princess Sukey; The Story of a Pigeon and Her Human Friends (1905)
  • The Story of an Eskimo Dog (1906)
  • My Pets (1908)
  • Tilda Jane’s Orphans (1909)
  • The Girl from Vermont (1910)
  • Pussy Black-Face (1913)
  • Boy, the Wandering Dog (1916)
  • Golden Dicky (1919)
  • Bonnie Prince Fetlar (1920)
  • Jimmy Gold-Coast (1924)
  • Esther de Warren (1927)

This book is 1/13 in my Canadian Book Challenge! Check it out at The Book Mine Set

4 thoughts on “Beautiful Joe by Margaret Marshall Saunders

  1. Thanks for stopping over Carrie! I wish I had an old vintage copy but mine is new and a different cover than this, but the story inside is still the same:)


  2. My two favorite books from childhood were Beautiful Joe and Black Beauty. Our next-door neighbors were an elderly couple who had never had children, but who welcomed us to come to their home and enjoy their vast collection of books. Thank you, Mr and Mrs Branson for introducing me to Beautiful Joe.


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