The Poet's Dog
HarperCollins, 2016 88 pages
This lyrical jem of a book starts out with a poem by the author:
Dogs speak words
But only poets
This poem sets the stage for what is to come. Our narrator is Teddy, an Irish wolfhound. Teddy finds two children lost in the woods during a snowstorm. He escorts them back to the remote cabin he previously shared with an elderly poet who has since passed away. Because the poet read to him incessantly, Teddy acquired to gift of speech. Unfortunately, only poets and children have the ability/imagination to hear him. The lost children, Nickel and Flora spend several days with Teddy in the cozy cabin, staying warm by the fire and forging the kitchen for food. As the children hunker down during the storm, italicized sections tell the story of the "before time", when Teddy lived with his poet, who eventually become sick and died. Teddy has not been able to leave the cabin for a new home and his life has continued in a state of mourning limbo. Eventually the storm lifts. The children's father arrives with a surprising connection to Teddy and a new lease on life for the old dog.
This is a slight, quiet story that is not as simple or juvenile as it first appears. MacLachlan, of Sarah, Plain and Tall fame proves that she's still "got it". This carefully constructed volume reads much like a poem written by the former master of our hero. Her love of poetry and words and respect for the power of reading shines through and will surely encourage young readers to delve into the magic of words, perhaps taking a crack at writing their own poems. Her love and understanding of dogs is also evident in this story and she manages to portray our narrator in a believable and genuine way. The story is simple, yet has a plot, conflict, and never is boring. The flash back portions are easy to follow and add surprise to the tale as Teddy's past is slowly revealed. Margins are wide, text is large, and chapters are short, making this a quick read. I read it during one lunch hour with people walking in and out and talking at me. The story would make an excellent read aloud and would serve as a wonderful introduction to poetry units. The ending is deliciously happy, landing Teddy in his new forever home and leaving our characters safe, sound, and gloriously happy. It doesn't get batter than that!