HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Author: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Illustrator: Barry Moser
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2000
Language level: 3 (some cursing and profanity)
Reading level: Age 12 at least
Rating: 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. Shiloh (published in 2000 by Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing; republished by Scholastic Inc.). My wife Karen bought this book and its two sequels, Shiloh Season and Saving Shiloh, as a set from Scholastic. Shiloh won a Newbery Medal. It just goes to show how much the typical view of “good” children’s literature has changed in sixty years! The book is about a West Virginia boy named Marty who finds a dog which he names Shiloh. However, he finds out that the dog belongs to his neighbor Judd Travers, who is known to mistreat his dogs. After being taken back to Judd, the dog runs away again, and Marty tries to hide him, but after the dog is attacked and injured by another dog, the whole story comes out. The language of this book leaves a little to be desired. Shiloh is described as being so frightened that he was “scared to pee.” The word “h” word is used once, the “d” word is found twice, and there are a couple of interjectory phrases with “Jesus” in them. While I do not approve of this kind of language used in any book, it is to me absolutely unconscionable to use it in children’s literature, even if it is true that there are people who talk that way. There are also references to Judd Travers’s use of tobacco and drinking beer.
However, the worst problem for me is the underlying message of the book. Marty does a lot of lying while trying to keep Shiloh hidden, and while it bothers his conscience he never reaches the conclusion that it is wrong but rather comes to view it as necessary to accomplish his aim of saving Shiloh. He says, “I don’t feel good about the lies I tell Dara Lynn or David or his ma. But I don’t feel exactly bad neither.” Why? Because “I’m at the point where I’ll do most anything for Shiloh. A lie don’t seem a lie anymore when it’s meant to save a dog, and right and wrong’s all mixed up in my head.” Now, a story where someone lies, suffers the consequences of his lie, and learns that lying is bad would be fine. Unfortunately, this problem is just not resolved in a godly way because Mrs. Naylor does not seem to approach the situation from the standpoint of having an absolute standard of right and wrong, but is evidently a product of the relativism of our day. It seems to me that the theme of the book is found in the conclusion. “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.” So, according to the book, the endsaving the dog– justifies the means. If you accomplish a good goal, the lies that you may have to tell to achieve it do not matter and may even be worth it.
It is true that right and wrong are not always easy. In fact doing right is sometimes quite difficult. But for those of us who believe the Bible, knowing right and wrong is usually quite simple. If God says that it is wrong, it is wrong. In addition to this, a rather skewed view of heaven and hell is presented. “If what Grandma Preston told me once about heaven and hell is true, and liars go to hell, then I guess that’s where I’m headed. But she also tole me that only people are allowed in heaven, not animals. And if I was to go to heaven and look down to see Shiloh left below, head on his paws, I’d run away from heaven sure.” This is not to say that there is nothing good or beneficial in the book. It is well written, interestingly told, and easy to read. Marty demonstrates courage when he finally decides to face up to Judd Travers, and being kind to animals is definitely emphasized. When they were twelve, we let our boys read the book (after inking out the “bad words”). However, if children read the book, before they do, parents should have a good discussion of the principles involved and afterwards have another discussion about the application of those principles. And having read the book, we decided to skip the movie. I would not recommend this book for anyone under age twelve.