1995's Buckeye Children's Book Award winner for grades 3-5 was Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. It was also the Newbery winner for 1992 (among many other accolades). I wish I could put a BCBA award on the book right next to the shiny gold Newbery!
Marty is an 11-year-old boy living in rural West Virginia. He finds a beagle wandering near his home and, when it follows Marty home, he names the dog Shiloh (after a local school). Marty soon realizes that Shiloh belongs to a man named Judd, who abuses his dogs, and Marty begs to keep him. His father refuses, saying that the dog should be returned to his owner.
Shiloh returns, however, and Marty secretly keeps him in a pen in the woods, until another dog attacks Shiloh in the night and Marty has to reveal his secret to his parents in order to get medical attention for Shiloh. Marty is once again forced to give up the dog.
But Marty can't stand by, and he goes to confront Judd. In doing so, he sees Judd kill a deer out of season, and blackmails Judd into allowing Marty to work to earn Shiloh. Eventually, (SPOILER ALERT) after a few attempts to break their contract, Judd reveals that he was abused as a child. In the end, Judd warms up to Marty and allows him to take Shiloh.
Normally, I don't want to spoil the end of a book on here, but for the review I felt it was necessary. While the book is unbelievably sad for any animal lover, I really enjoyed how Naylor gets you (or more specifically, kids) to see how fuzzy morality can be at times. Marty wants to save the dog (good), but to do so he has to lie and steal and blackmail others (not good). There is also a brief moment of seeing some empathy in Judd, which creates the discussion of what makes up a good person? Can people be redeemed? Is what others have done to you, and all that you know, a good excuse for your actions?
Marty's voice in the story is wonderful. It's written in that sort of Southern vernacular that you can immediately hear in your head while you read. His observations about his life and the world around him, especially when dealing with God, are very much the way I feel children think. But my favorite part?
"What you going to do with that dog once he's yours?"
(That, and the fact that the dog doesn't die, which is a rarity in realistic animal stories!)
It may not sound like the most exciting book, but I guarantee it will leave kids wondering what will happen with Shiloh next -- and if Marty will ever get the chance to save him.
What's up next for you, Jill? Did you have a favorite dog story from your childhood? I'll never forget Where the Red Fern Grows myself.
Please join us in our reading challenge! We welcome anyone at any time! :)