Lynn: I was always the smallest child in my class. “The best things come in small packages,” my father used to say to reassure me. That just happens to be the perfect aphorism to describe Patricia MacLachlan’s new book, The Poet’s Dog (2016). As small as a beginning reader and with MacLachlan’s trademark simple sentences, this book packs an emotional wallop and provides much to think about with each perfectly chosen word.
The plot seems simple, too: Two children trapped in a blizzard are rescued by a dog, Teddy, who leads them to the safety of a cabin where he lived with his poet master, Sylvan, now dead. But in MacLachlan’s hands, there is magic here. The Irish wolfhound understands and speaks human language. Although Teddy can understand all humans, only poets and children can understand Teddy’s words. As the blizzard rages, the story moves between Teddy’s memories of Sylvan and his current snowbound situation. Teddy’s abilities couldn’t seem more natural as the three comfort each other, gently exploring grief, loss and the lasting nature of love.
Cindy: I would love to read this book aloud to a class, or to a poet. Dogs, children, and poets are special, and so is this book. I read it last summer, but rereading it yesterday, I was struck by this passage:
I’m a dog. I should tell you that right away. But I grew up with words. A poet named Sylvan found me at the shelter and took me home. He laid down a red rug for me by the fire, and I grew up to the clicking of his keyboard as he wrote.
He wrote all day. And he read to me. He read Yeats and Shakespeare, James Joyce, Wordsworth, Natalie Babbitt, and Billy Collins. He read me Charlotte’s Web, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Morning Girl, and my favorite story, Ox-Cart Man. So I saw how words follow one another and felt the comfort of them.
Just this week we lost Natalie Babbitt—but we have her words. And the children and adults who embrace this book will have MacLachlan’s words. Ilene Cooper is spot on in Booklist review, in which she calls The Poet’s Dog a love story. It’s not for every child, but there is one child (or more) in every classroom who will connect with the story’s simple magnitude. It would pair nicely with The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, or Sara Pennypacker’s Pax. Don’t miss it.