4 January 2012

Review 4: One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson

"Hal's parents are rich. His huge house has sweeping silk curtains, expensive carpets and not a speck of dirt anywhere. "A dog?" cries his mother. "Never! Think of the mess, the scratch marks - the puddles on the floor..." But on Hal's birthday, a miracle happens. And when he sees Fleck at the Easy Pets Agency, he knows he's found his perfect dog. Whatever his parents say, he will never give Fleck up. If dog and boy are to stay together, they'll have to run away..." 


This was Eva Ibbotson's last book before she died and is a fitting tribute to her remarkable talent. She has achieved the unachievable and written a story about animals that I actually enjoyed and not only that made me care about a group of fictional dogs, something I never thought I would say. A truly lovely story that will charm adults and entrance children.

First Line: "All Hal had ever wanted was a dog."

Story: The classic story of the child whose parents lavish presents and all that money can buy on the child and yet don't understand why they are unhappy. Hal's father works long hours and is forever jetting off around the globe. Hal's mother drinks coffee with her friends, shops and endlessly redecorates. Hal is their only child and all he wants is a dog but his mother cannot stand the thought of something so dirty and disorganised in her perfect house. His parents think that have hit on the perfect idea when the come across the Easy Pets Agency which allows rich people to hire pedigree dogs for the hour or the weekend. The stray mongrel, Fleck, has ended up in there by accident when the kennel maid convinces the corrupt owners that he is a new breed in order to look after him. Hal is distraught when Fleck is returned and sets out to rescue Fleck and go and live with his grandparents in Northumberland. However he accidentally picks up Pippa, the kennel maids younger sister and a lovable group of dogs she has released from Easy Pets Agency. As they travel across the country they try to stay safe and all find somewhere they feel is home. It's a lovely, uncomplicated story with a clear message about love and family. A 101 Dalmations or Homeward Bound for today (although I really don't like Homeward Bound and I really like this!)

Characters: I never thought I would say this but the real stars of the show are the ragtag bunch of dogs that Hal and Fleck collect on their escape. Ibbotson manages to give them all likeable and believable characters without resorting into sentimentality and cheesiness. Thankfully she does not have the dogs speaking but goes down the line of they are able to commuicate with each other and understand what humans are saying to them which allows them enough personality to be appealing without bleeding into complete fantasy. All the dogs find somewhere they feel at home at on their journey north but continue with Hal, Pippa and Fleck to help them find Hal's grandparents. Of course being a children's book they end up being able to go and live at these places, which is heavily signposted from the outset but I imagine children will enjoy the suspense of the dogs having to decide what to do. Hal himself is an appealing little boy but is basically just a vehicle for the story; he is exactly what you would expect - polite, friendly, brave, resourceful and caring. His parents are the only characters which might challenge children as they obviously do love Hal but do not know how to show this is any way other than buying him things but of course they get their moment of redemption at the end and I'm sure you can guess what happens about Fleck and Hal staying together.

Writing: Ibbotson is an absolute master at creating wonderful stories for children and teenagers. I would highly recommend everything she has written and it is so sad that she has died. I read her books as a child and recommend them to my students in my library now. She writes effortlessly lovely stories with appealing characters, good pacing and exciting storylines for a large variety of audiences. One Dog and his Boy is not exception to any of the above, the story moves along pacily without sacrificing the emotional elements. The characters are realistic but not unappealing and she manages to make animals the heroes. Personally, I am not an animal lover and would shy away from books with a non-human main character as I just struggle to work up any great amount of feeling over what happens to them. Not to say I enjoy reading stories where animals meet gruesome ends but animal stories just don't inspire me. I would probably not have picked this up were it not Ibbotson's last book but I am so glad I did.

Cover: Again, lovely. I really like the font of the title and it accurately represents the tone and nature of the story inside.

Try it if you liked: The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith or Shadow by Michael Morpurgo

Summary: This is definitely a children's, not young adult, book but will be loved by children and adults alike. I would really recommend reading this gorgeous book with younger children or giving it to children 8+ to read for themselves. Eva Ibbotson's last book is a fitting representation of her deserving success as a children's author.

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