I don’t know why, but I’ve really been enjoying the dog books I’ve been reading lately. There’s been a few misses (Sounderand Old Yeller are at the bottom of the pack), but Where the Red Fern Grows, Ginger Pye, and now Shiloh are great.
I think what I like the most about a dog book like Shiloh is that it doesn’t hinge on the
dog dying. That’s probably also why I really enjoyed Ginger Pye. To be honest, the two books are a little bit similar in
that they deal with “unsavory” characters and animal abuse.
I think what I liked most about Shiloh, though, is Naylor’s portrayal of Judd Travers. Children’s books can stray into strictly black-and-white territory, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Travers is portrayed in a surprisingly nuanced way. Nothing that is revealed about him excuses his poor behavior towards animals, but it does help to explain how he became that way—and that sort of nuance is important in a children’s book. Nowadays I feel like we’ve gone even more strictly black-and-white in our portrayals of characters, as authors seem to be scared that any positive or empathetic view on a bad character, or any negative or critical view on a good character (or a character that society has deemed should only be portrayed positively), will result in backlash. As a frequenter of Goodreads, I’ve seen how much readers expect characters to think and act in certain ways. So Naylor’s characters, written thirty (!) years ago, and the human ways they are portrayed are a breath of fresh air.
The book is also great in its discussion of ethics, as
well as in how Marty’s determination shines through despite the unfair way
Travers treats him (and how that wins over Travers, in the end). Overall, for
such a short book, there’s quite a lot to unpack and think about in Shiloh.