HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle
Author and Illustrator: Hugh Lofting
Publisher: Yearling, republished 1988
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 8 – 12
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Lofting, Hugh. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (published in 1922 by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, PA). Nine and a half year old Tommy Stubbins lives in Puddleby on the Marsh with his parents. Finding an injured squirrel, he is told to take it to Dr. John Dolittle, a “nacherlist,” who can cure it. Dr. Dolittle is able to talk to the animals, and while there Tommy becomes acquainted with the doctor’s menagerie household, including Dab Dab the duck, Jip the dog, Polynesia the parrot, Chee Chee the chimpanzee, and Miranda the purple bird of paradise. Dr. Dolittle agrees to take Tommy on as his assistant, and the boy learns the animal languages too. They set out on a voyage to locate the mysterious floating Spidermonkey Island, meet fellow naturalist Long Arrow, and find the Great Glass Sea Snail with the hope of learning the shellfish language from it. Can they achieve their aims? What happens to them in the process? And will they ever make it back home?
Years ago we read the first book in this series, The Story of Doctor Dolittle. This second volume, which won the Newbery Medal in 1923, is the primary basis for the plot of the beloved 1967 musical film Dr. Dolittle, starring Rex Harrison. It is an enjoyable story, but there are a few items that parents might want to discuss with their children before reading it. In addition to some common euphemisms (golly, gosh, confound it), the term “Lord” is used inappropriately on occasion, and it is said that there were other times when “swear words” were uttered. The word “nigger” is found once in referring to African tribesmen, likely a reflection of the time of writing. There are references to pipe and cigar smoking and to gambling.
Also, as the setting is in 1839, Charles Darwin, who made his famous voyage on the H. M. S. Beagle from 1831 to 1836, is mentioned as a well-known naturalist, although it could be argued that this was not necessarily an endorsement. And the Great Glass Sea Snail is spoken of as being 70,000 years old and belonging to “past ages when the whales were land animals, and all that.” As Barb Brandes and Deb Ekstrand note in their work And the Winner Is…: A Guide to Newbery Winners from a Christian Perspective, “A little pre-reading chat with your kids should eliminate any problems with these and allow them to enjoy this delightful story. Or, if you prefer, read it aloud.” There are ten more books in the series, ending with Doctor Dolittle’s Puddleby Adventures (1952).