Shiloh *

by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1991)

A Sweet Spot selection. 

* This title may contain sensitive content for young readers and your community.

“…because there isn’t anything as humble or patient or loving or loyal as the dog I have in my arms right now.”

Marty Preston lives in a rural town in West Virginia where one of his favorite activities is exploring the land. Marty’s life is changed when he finds a thin, skittish beagle he names Shiloh. The connection between the two is immediate: Shiloh comes when Marty whistles and Shiloh even follows Marty home. The problem? Shiloh belongs to Judd Travers, a man known for having a temper and treating his dogs poorly. 

“Funny how one lie leads to another and before you know it, your whole life can be a lie.” 

Marty is adamant that he deserves to keep Shiloh because he’ll take better care of him than his “rightful” owner. So Marty assembles a pen behind his home, and starts smuggling food for Shiloh… but he also begins lying to his parents about how he’s spending his time. Both Marty and readers will soon discover that right and wrong are more complicated than one might think. 

“The day Shiloh come, we’re having us a big Sunday dinner. Dara Lynn’s dipping bread in her glass of cold tea, the way she likes….”

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. Phyllis Reynolds 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.

“…and I’m thinking how nothing is as simple as you guess–not right or wrong, not Judd Travers, not even me or this dog I got here. But the good part is I saved Shiloh and opened my eyes some. Now that ain’t bad for eleven.” 

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 just wants a home where he can be loved. Families relish the opportunity to fall under Shiloh’s spell and discuss Marty’s difficult decisions and brave solutions. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that 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 Marty and Shiloh’s humane saga.

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