A boy and his dog: Shiloh

Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (lexile: 890; AR book level: 4.4; 144 pp)

Imagine you’re an 11-year-old boy, walking a back country road on a lazy Sunday afternoon, when out of the corner of your eye you spot a dog.  A beagle.  A pup.  He’s kind of shy, maybe skittish … maybe he’s even been abused.  But you win him over, and he follows you home and wins your heart.  You’ve never had a dog — family couldn’t afford one — but this one seems meant for you.    Ah, but he belongs to someone else — worse, it’s a bad-tempered man who you know abuses his animals.  Can you somehow save this one?

That’s where Marty Preston finds himself as Shiloh opens.  Should he — can he — hide the dog he’s named Shiloh from his parents?  Should he return Shiloh to Judd Travers, his rightful but cruel owner?   I won’t spoil the story by telling you how it develops, but I will tell you this is a GREAT tale, wonderfully told — certainly worthy of the 1992 Newbery medal it was awarded.  I’ve read it with several boys who were struggling readers, and they loved it.

In the library, parents  sometimes ask us to recommend stories that will not only interest their kids, but also model good character for them.  Shiloh certainly fits.  Marty’s parents are good, honest, and hard-working, and you can see their influence in Marty’s conscience, as he struggles to balance compassion, justice, honesty, and responsibility.  What he decides to do in the end is both difficult and good.

The story is set in the hills of West Virginia, and told entirely in Marty’s own voice.  His rural dialect is natural, and makes the story great to read aloud, but can also cause some difficulty for struggling readers.

The sequels develop the story of Marty & Shiloh, and more particularly their relationship with Shiloh’s former owner, Judd Travers.  In fact, some have suggested that the last book could also be titled Saving Judd Travers.  You’ll have to read it to see if you agree.

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One response to “A boy and his dog: Shiloh

  1. You really hit this nail on the head! It’s a wonderful and engaging story — one of those read-alouds that my students couldn’t wait to hear me read.

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