HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon
Author: Dhan Gopal Mukerji
Illustrator: Boris Artzybasheff
Publisher: Dutton Children’s Books, reissued in 1968
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
Disclosure: Any books donated for review purposes are in turn donated to a library. No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.
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Mukerji, Dhan Gopal. Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon (published in 1927 by Dutton Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). Gay-Neck, a rather literal translation of Chitra-Griva which can also be rendered “Iridescence-throated,” was a carrier pigeon which was raised by the author in the early part of the twentieth century. Dhan Gopal Mukerji was born in 1890 near Calcutta, India, the son of Brahmin parents whose family had for centuries had the ministry of a local temple. While there might be some fictionalizing in the book, which won the Newbery Medal in 1928, Mukerji basically wrote out of his own experiences. The main part of the story takes place when he was a boy of sixteen. Some of the action is told by Mukerji, but other parts are written as if being told by Gay-Neck himself.
In the first part of the book, Mukerji describes Gay-Neck’s birth, education and training in direction, which includes a vacation with his family and his friend, the old Indian hunter Ghond, to the Himalayas where the pigeon has experiences with eagles, is truant for a time, and finally makes his odyssey home. The second part tells how that upon the outbreak of World War I Gay-Neck is inducted into the service of the Indian Army fighting with the British in Europe. Mukerji figures that since the pigeon was trained in the climate of the northeastern Himalayas, he would be an invaluable messenger for the British War Department in any European country, especially those with Alpine regions. The boy is too young to go, so Ghond is sent with Gay-Neck. But with all the fighting, the bombs, and especially the strange metallic eagles that spit fire in the sky, will Gay-Neck and Ghond survive and make it back to India?
Mukerji came to the United States at the age of nineteen, studied at two universities, married an American wife, and spent the rest of his life here. Though written in somewhat of an older style, this book tells a very interesting and delightful story. There are not many books for young people regarding the World War I era, so this one helps to fill that gap. Of course, it provides a lot of information about carrier pigeons. In fact, Laurie Bluedorn said, “Don’t read this one unless you plan to start raising carrier pigeons.” It is also useful for learning about life in India during the early 1900s. There are a few things that parents may want to explain. Barb Brandes and Deb Ekstrand note, “The book does contain many elements of Buddhism and Hinduism,” which, of course, are historically accurate, but they also say it “is still a wonderful window into another country and culture.” Other books by the same author include Ghond the Hunter, Hari the Jungle Lad, and Kari the Elephant.