HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Bob Son of Battle
Author: Alfred Ollivant
Illustrator: Marguerite Kirmse
Publisher: Wildside Press, republished in 2007
Language level: 3
(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 13 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Ollivant, Alfred. Bob Son of Battle (originally published in 1898 by Doubleday Page and Company, Garden City, NJ; republished in 1940 by Grosset and Dunlap, New York City, NY). Bob, son of Battle, is the last of the gray dogs of Kenmuir. He lives with and herds sheep for his master, James Moore, and his family in the rural Cumbria district of northern England. Moore’s Scottish neighbor, Adam M’Adam of the Grange, considers himself Moore’s rival and even enemy. M’Adam’s dog Red Wull won the Shepherd’s Trophy one year, but Bob won it the next two years, and whoever wins it three years in a row gets to keep it. It doesn’t help that David M’Adam is sweet on Maggie Moore. Meanwhile, a mysterious “Black Killer,” whom everyone assumes must be a shepherd dog, is on the loose. M’Adam hints that he has proof that the sheep murdering dog is Bob. Is Bob really the killer? Who will win the Trophy? And what will happen to “Owd Bob”?
Alfred Ollivant (1874–1927), an English novelist, was born in Nuthurst, Sussex, England, in 1874 and became an author after a horse-riding injury ending his brief military career. Bob Son of Battle (complete title Owd Bob – Being the Story of Bob, Son of Battle, the Last of the Grey Dogs of Kenmuir), his first novel, was published in 1898. Even though most of the book’s dialogue is written in the Cumbrian dialect, it became a popular children’s book both in the United Kingdom and the United States and is considered a children’s classic. Ollivant even published a sequel, Danny, in 1902. Ollivant also wrote about a dozen other novels ranging from small-scale cautionary tales to grand historical epics. In addition, he was a short story contributor to The Atlantic Monthly and the Boston Evening Transcript prior to his death in London on January 19, 1927.
There are a few references to drinking beer, smoking tobacco, and gambling. The euphemistic “dang” appears, along with a few uses of “God” and “Lord” as exclamations, and a couple of times M’Adam says “d—n” (spelled exactly that way in my edition). However, it is basically a good story, and I liked it, though it may not be appropriate for smaller, more sensitive children, and some youngsters may have trouble with the dialect. For the latter, a newer version published by The New York Review Children’s Collection is available in which the challenging idioms of the original have been rendered into fluent and graceful English of our day by Lydia Davis. Personally, however, I generally prefer originals. The book is recommended by Laurie Bluedorn of Trivium Pursuit who said, “Have a box of Kleenex handy—this one will make you cry.” And Laurie’s son, Nathaniel Bluedorn, wrote in Hand that Rocks the Cradle: 400 Classic Books for Children, “My mother says this is the saddest book she ever read.”