Reviewed November 13, 2009.
Yearling (Bantam Doubleday Dell), 1992. First published in 1991. 144 pages.
Newbery Medal Winner 1992 Starred Review
Here's another book I read as one of my assignments for a class I took on the Newbery Medal. It seems like the ultimate Newbery Medal winner -- suitable for third or fourth graders, this is a heart-warming story about a boy and a dog. Look at that -- a book with a dog on the cover and an award sticker, and the dog doesn't even die! (See No More Dead Dogs, by Gordon Korman, to get a feel for how rare that is.)
Marty finds a beagle who's run away from his owner, and the beagle is clearly afraid of getting hit. Marty names him Shiloh, after the place where he found him. But the dog belongs to Judd Travers, and his father makes Marty give him back. When Marty hears how Judd plans to punish Shiloh for running away, his heart is sickened.
Then Shiloh runs away again. Marty simply cannot bear to bring Shiloh back. But how long can he keep a secret from his family, his best friend, and, most of all, Judd Travers?
I like Marty's reflections on his moral dilemma:
Thinking about an earlier incident where he lied, he says:
When Ma asked me again about that rabbit, I gulped and said yes, and she made me get down on my knees and ask God's forgiveness, which wasn't so bad. I honestly felt better afterward. But then she said that Jesus wanted me to go in the next room and tell Dara Lynn what I'd done, and Dara Lynn threw a fit all over again. Threw a box of Crayolas at me and could have broke my nose. Called me a rotten, greedy pig. If that made Jesus sad, Ma never said.
"Jesus," I whisper finally, "which you want me to do? Be one hundred percent honest and carry that dog back to Judd so that one of your creatures can be kicked and starved all over again, or keep him here and fatten him up to glorify your creation?"
The question seemed to answer itself, and I'm pretty proud of that prayer. Repeat it to myself so's to remember it in case I need to use it again. If Jesus is anything like the story cards from Sunday school make him out to be, he ain't the kind to want a thin, little beagle to be hurt.
Even as short as it is, this book has surprising depth. Marty comes to see another side even to Judd Travers. But mostly it's a heart-warming story about a boy who loves a dog.