The best book I ever read was The Visitor by Gene Smith and illustrated by Ted Lewin. Sadly, it’s out of print. My copy was a little paperback I’d gotten from the Scholastic Book Club. I believe it has a gold colored frame around a painting of an Irish Setter. The story was about an Irish setter named Sassafras who is put in a kennel while his family goes on a short vacation they never return from.

As the weeks stretch into months, Sassafras learns that his family has had a car accident on the trip and the father was killed. Sassafras will never be going home. He feels sorry for himself until he realizes that ever dog in the kennel is scared, sad and lonely too. With the knowledge that he wasn’t alone, he spends the rest of his days at the kennels comforting other dogs until the last paragraph. I cried countless tears over this book.

Why was this book so important to me? It taught me that everything and everyone experiences loneliness, sorrow and pain at some pain in their life—wherever we are, we aren’t alone. The book doesn’t have a happy ending, but Sassafras copes and has a decent life. It wasn’t the life he planned for or wanted, but he made due with what he got. It was a deep message for a first grader, but one I still think about.

This book is out of print, but I just found a used copy. Published by Cowles Book Company, now out of business, I would love to see this book available again. Maybe I will try to find the rights to it and bring it back myself.

But that’s the most important book I’ve ever read. How about you?

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About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is a third-generation Shimanchu-American and an award-winning poet, author, and publisher with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. Publisher of Space & Time magazine (est. 1966), a two-time Bram Stoker Awards® Winner and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2020, she offers free classes for writers on her website.


  1. Robin Wiesneth

    That book looks amazing. I remember reading Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in high school and thinking it was the coolest story ever. I was a huge Pink Floyd fan and when I found out Adams was friends with the guitar player I got more interested in Adam’s other works. His books, though silly and comic, had a little hidden gems of wisdom that poked fun at the stupid things humans believe and the dumber things they do because of those beliefs.
    Then there’s his tie with the BBC’s “Dr Who”. Both HHGG and “so long, and thanks for all the Fish” were Dr Who episodes before they became novels.
    Lastly, he was good friends with Neil Gaiman. Another great writer and visionary.

    1. Angela Yuriko Smith Post author

      I loved Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy! I think I read it much later in life, and it was when I found out he was a close friend of Neil Gaiman. I didn’t know about the BBC tie-ins. So cool!

  2. Marge Simon

    You surely read the best book for you, at an age when you were formulating your perspectives on life. I read lots of books as a kid, to be sure. But when I found a magazine “Startling Stories” in the drug store of a little town in Idaho called Preston, it changed my life. From then on (age 12) I knew genre fiction existed and worlds of the imagination yet to investigate — and to join, later. Sure, I’d read fairy tales and Peter Pan, and folk tales, but the magazine was for adults. My new window to the universe. AND it was illustrated by Ed Emshwiller. But that’s another story! BTW, by quirk of circumstance, I own it now (from a collector).

    1. Angela Yuriko Smith Post author

      That’s why it is so important to keep our little spec fiction magazines alive. Who knows how many kids out there need it? Alfred Hitchcock’s anthologies was my introduction to contemporary horror. Funny that you own a vintage copy of that magazine now. I had to buy a copy of The Visitor when I finally found it.


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