1992: Shiloh (making the case for dognapping)

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3/5

Shiloh tells the simple story of the growing friendship between a boy and a dog. This 1992 Newbery Medal winning book by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is a straightforward read that exemplifies the virtues of hard work, trustworthiness and care for the less fortunate.

At the heart of the novel is a moral dilemma: what should you do when you know someone is abusing their dog, but there is no way to prove it? Eleven-year-old Marty Preston learns this lesson the hard way when an abused beagle escapes its owner and begins following him around. Despite the dog belonging to someone else, Marty hides Shiloh in the woods around his house, keeping him a secret from his parents and best friend, but things end up taking a turn for the worst when the dog ends up getting injured and his secret is revealed.

Despite having an interesting conflict, the ending was a bit of a letdown. Past experiences with other children’s novels that feature animal companions led me to believe that something more dramatic would happen, but the ending kind of peters out as the situation resolves itself. Shiloh’s resolution is almost pulled out of thin air, with an unsatisfactory build up to a warm, fuzzy ending.

The main character is a sympathetic figure – an honest person with a bleeding heart for animals of all kinds. He gets what he wants in life through perseverance and hard work, and even manages to do something morally dubious to get the situation he wants in the end. Young readers will most likely be able to easily identify with him as he is morally sound and caring towards others. Additionally, the writing is easy to follow while still having its own characteristic style that works well with the rural setting.

In a classroom setting, Shiloh has many points that can be discussed – from the moral dilemma posed in the novel to the importance of trustworthiness and relying on family. While people who like dogs will most likely enjoy the book, it’s fairly forgettable when compared to similar books such as Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows.

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