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One Dog and His Boy

Posted on May 17, 2011

Eva Ibbotson
with illustrations by Sharon Rentta
(Marion Lloyd Books)

All Hal has ever wanted is a dog. Not the latest gadgets, the endless toy parcels from the big department stores. Not even a pure-bred, expensive dog. Just a dog he can call his own. But his parents are not keen: his dad spends all his time travelling the world and his mum is house-proud to the point of possibly having serious OCD tendencies . But when Hal’s birthday comes up and he has no interest in anything unless it is a four-legged friend, his father relents and takes him to Easy Pets, a dog-renting agency. Though he fails to mention this last bit to Hal, and so when he goes home with Fleck, Hal thinks he has found a life-long friend; when he realises three days later that Fleck has been returned to the shop, Hal’s heart is broken and he decides that the only way for him and Fleck to be together and happy is to run away to Northumberland to his grandparents’ cottage. And so begins the most exciting and unpredictable adventure; will Hal, aided by Pippa and a whole crew of four-legged companions make it safely to the cottage, and will it all be happy ever-after for children and dogs alike?

This is, without a doubt, storytelling at its best. Eva Ibbotson, who sadly passed away last October, proves  again why she remains one of the nation’s most beloved authors for children.  The story of Hal and Fleck’s extraordinary bond and the adventure that ensues their separation is one that will delight readers of all ages, and I don’t think you need to like dogs, either! Themes of love, friendship, loyalty, bravery, hope and belonging take centre stage and help make this story one that will warm your heart; teamed with Ibbotson’s brilliance at creating stories and you have the most beautiful, charming classic in the making. Sharon Rentta’s gentle dog illustrations help create the lovely overall atmosphere of the book (the illustration of Otto with the retriever puppies has got to be my favourite!).

Like many classic children’s books, One Dog and His Boy involves a great adventure, full of obstacles. A great feature of traditional storytelling is to have very strong goodies and baddies (think Famous Five for example) and in order to do so authors often exacerbate some of the characters’ flaws and qualities. This is the case here: there are a lot of baddies in One Dog and His Boy but the one that stuck for me was Kevin Dawks, who does not just like to dump rubbish in the countryside, he likes to dump rubbish in fields of bluebells! The villains in this story are so wrapped up into their own search for gain that they are unable to care for or understand others. The goodies, in contrast, are willing to do their uppermost to help others, human or otherwise: they are selfless beyond the call of duty, such as Kayley and Mr Naryan. I loved the bit about Mr Naryan allowing the dogs to sit in his Rolls Royce because he is a Buddhist!

But this journey is not only about Hal finding the strentgh to do what he thinks is best for himself; it is a journey of discovery. First for the dogs, who rediscover themselves and their strengths and find new homes and owners accordingly (my favourite had to be Otto and the monks). But the most touching was the journey of discovery that Hal’s family goes through – a family that was barely together at all and needs an almost-tragedy to rediscover itself. I found Hal”s mother’s transformation particularly touching, and although Hal is understandably cautious about his parents’ new ways, he can feel that something has changed, and so will the readers.

One Dog and His Boy is a beautiful piece of writing; it is timeless children’s literature at its best.

One Dog and His Boy is recommended as a 7 or 8+ read, but it is quite dense in text. However, I think it will make a fantastic book to share between parent and child at storytime.

Thank you to Scholastic for providing a review copy of “One Dog and His Boy”.

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