What a wonderful book! I read it after my 11-year old son suggested it as a change from my usual reading fare of history and biography. It turned out to be much more than just a summertime reading diversion...it became for me a deeply moving reading experience in its own right. I was quickly captivated by Marty and his family, Shiloh, the beagle, and yes, even the despicable Judd Travers.
The story is straightforward: Marty Preston is an eleven-year old boy living with his parents and two younger sisters in rural West Virginia. It is a close-knit, loving family with traditional values and a clearly defined set of rules to live by. His father is a mail carrier and his mother a homemaker.
One Sunday afternoon, as Marty is walking along a backwoods road, he spies a young beagle hiding under a bush. He calls to it, but the dog doesn't respond. When Marty walks away, the dog follows him. Marty tries to get the dog to come to him several times, but the animal, which has obviously been abused, cowers miserably. Finally, the dog happily comes to Marty when the boy whistles at him. Marty immediately falls in love with the dog, whom he names Shiloh. The little beagle responds with trust and affection. The boy quickly figures out that Shiloh belongs to Judd Travers, a local ne'er-do-well, and a man with an unsavory reputation for dishonesty, a hot temper, and animal abuse. Marty wants to keep Shiloh, to protect him from Judd. However, his parents insist he return the dog to its rightful owner, which Marty begrudgingly does.
Shiloh runs away from Judd a second time and finds his way back to Marty's house. This time, Marty vows to keep him. He hides the dog, sneaks food out of the house to feed him, and begins to lie to friends and family when questioned about Shiloh's whereabouts. A tragic accident causes Marty's secret to be found out by his parents. He is forced once again to return Shiloh to his master. Marty, desperate to keep Shiloh, offers to do almost anything to get Judd to give him the dog.
I won't give away the ending of the book; suffice it to say, it is a dramatic and compassionate ending, sure to move anyone who reads this book.
"Shiloh" is a beautifully and masterfully written in every way. It is written in the first person, from Marty's point of view. The narrative is written in a rural West Virginia dialect that sounds totally natural and unaffected. It seemed almost possible for me to hear Marty speak as I read along. The book's plot is absolutely superb - tightly woven, dramatic, and realistic. Each of the characters come to life with complete believability. All of the situations presented in the narrative are easy to understand and appropriate for young readers.
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor proves why she is such a gifted writer of children's books, mainly because she so brilliantly fires the reader's imagination and teaches positive values. In the story, she presents Marty with an ethical dilemma which, at one time or another, all children face. Marty's predicament is this: whether to do what is right in the eyes of a higher authority (his parents) when it is a reasonable certainty that the action will result in a great wrong being done by someone else; or to do what his heart says is right, even though that action is wrong in the eyes of the higher authority (his parents). Marty's dilemma is compounded his conscience, which speaks loudly and often to him, demanding from him both honesty and a sense of fair play. How Marty responds to these challenges is the great lesson taught by this book.
"Shiloh" is a winner of the Newbery Medal and a classic of children's literature. I heartily recommend it to kids of all ages...from 9 to 99.