By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1991)
You can never go wrong with a dog story, which is doubly true when it wins the Newbery Medal. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh became an instant classic when it was published in 1991. It tells the story of a boy, Marty, and his dog, a beagle named Shiloh — except in this case the beagle belongs to somebody else. Marty lives in a backwoods town in rural West Virginia and wants a dog so badly he feels he deserves to keep Shiloh because he takes better care of him than his “rightful” owner.
The charm of Shiloh comes from Marty’s voice. He speaks colloquially and candidly, but with a sharp perception and broad perspective beyond his 11 years. Naylor’s prose attends well to details like what Marty’s family eats — picking worms from peaches — without inundating you with the fact of their poverty. And Marty’s parents both provide calm, empathetic wisdom that challenges and extends the moral dilemmas Marty faces in caring for Shiloh and negotiating his sense of honor.
Children always respond to a dog story because they can identify at two levels. They empathize with Marty and his first-person narration and chapter to chapter challenges. And they feel for Shiloh, the dog who doesn’t want to hunt and just wants a home where he can be loved. And families relish the opportunity to fall under Shiloh’s spell, and discuss Marty’s difficult decisions and brave solutions.
Shiloh’s success also spawned three sequels, Shiloh Season (1998), Saving Shiloh (1999), and A Shiloh Christmas (2015) allowing students and families to extend their interest in Shiloh and his saga.