The Poet’s Dog

Authored by Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrated by Kenard Pak
Published by Pushkin

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Over the next few months, we are adding reviews to our website of books that we have selected for our programmes and resources, as well as the best new books. So you will find some reviews of older titles interspersed with more recent ones.

This story has an interwoven narrative telling the tale of two children found in a storm by an Irish Wolf Hound named Teddy and the dog’s backstory of living with Sylvan, a poet, who has since died. The action takes place predominantly in a cabin: the cabin in which Teddy was raised by Sylvan and the place where he takes the children to shelter from the storm. This closed setting provides the opportunity to explore character and emotion more than action and setting. 

 Although Teddy understands words, Sylvan always told him there are only two kinds of people in the world who can hear dogs speak: poets and children. When Teddy finds the children trapped in a snowstorm, he tells them that he will bring them home – and they understand him. As they hole up in the cabin for shelter, Teddy is flooded with memories of Sylvan. The dog and the children have both lost the love and companionship of family. Together they help each other find what they have lost.

 With obvious appeal to dog lovers, there is much to be learned about man’s best friend in this story and particularly the characteristics of the Irish Wolf Hound. Although the narrative voice is that of a dog, there are still plenty of opportunities for empathy development as many emotions are explored including loss, fear, joy and relief.

 Although the language is simple and as such the story is accessible to a wide audience, there is also some excellent vocabulary work that can be done with words such as poignancy and the symbolic use of the colour red. It is useful to note the American English and spelling differences with children. It is the kind of book that could be offered to a mature child in Year 4 or to a reader in upper key stage 2 who is intimidated by a longer more complex book. There is nothing inappropriate for a primary audience in the story, though you may wish to note the main theme is that of loss and in addition to the dog lamenting his previous owner, there is also a poem about a child who has lost a cat.

 Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of opportunity to explore poetry while reading this story. Along with Sylvan’s poems and those of his students, reference is made to Donald Hall’s ‘Ox-cart man’ and readers can also explore the advice of the poet: ‘ to write what you know’.

 One of the most striking elements of this story is the pace. It gradually unfolds in an almost meditative rhythm. The seamless transitions from the present to the past using a word or objects in the cabin gently blend the two plot lines beautifully.

The story is quiet and reflective and I think would appeal to those who enjoyed titles such as Michael Morpurgo I Believe in Unicorns, Jackie Morris’s The White Fox or Sara Pennypacker’s beautiful dual narrative in Pax.

 

This title previously featured in our Year 4 Reading Gladiators collection and now has a full teaching sequence in Take One Book. We have included it in our year 5 sequences because the themes work well for this year group. To find out more about Reading Gladiators visit https://readinggladiators.org.uk/ and Take One Book visit takeonebook.org