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Review of "The Field of the Dogs"

By Katherine Paterson,
Harpercollins Juvenile , 2001
Review by Judith Catton on Nov 1st 2001
The Field of the DogsThe main character in this story is Josh, a little boy who is only slowly adjusting to life in a new town in Vermont, with his mother and new step-dad. His mother's preoccupation with their new baby is a source of resentment for Josh, who is, understandably, not finding it easy to settle in to a new school or make new friends. Through all these changes, though, Josh enjoys the constancy of his beloved dog Manch.

One winter's day when Josh is outdoors with Manch he is surprised to hear voices. He listens more attentively, and becomes convinced that his dog is actually talking to another dog. Moreover, as he listens more carefully, he learns that the dogs are discussing a problem not dissimilar from the one Josh currently experiencing in this new community -- that of being threatened and frightened by a bully and his gang. Through this vehicle of talking dogs that author Katherine Paterson weaves a tale of a small boy's suspense and anxiety and loneliness and ultimately, Josh's attempts to resolve the dogs' conflicts bring him to face his with his own demons.

It is a challenge for writers to take on an "issue" like bullying and write a tale for young readers that that avoids didacticism or moralizing, yet carries authenticity. In this story it is the boy himself, with the help of some friends, who finds a resolution to his own problems. This is a very positive aspect of the story, though Paterson fans will have to decide for themselves if this is ultimately a satisfying and convincing tale.

Readers are sure to be delighted with the vigor and child-centered perspective of Emily McCully's finely detailed pen and ink illustrations, scattered throughout the text.

© 2001 Judith Catton

    Judith Catton is a teacher and librarian with a longstanding interest in children's literature. After completing graduate study in Library and Information Science, and in English in Ontario, Canada, she has worked as a children's specialist in public libraries in both Canada and New Zealand. Her professional interests span children's literature and learning, and information literacy. Her current professional focus is full-time teaching in a New Zealand primary school.

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