Set in the rural Appalachian hills of West Virginia along the Ohio River Valley, Shiloh, the 1992 Newbery Medal winning book, tells the story of young Marty Preston and his compassion for a young beagle dog being mistreated by his owner. Marty names the dog Shiloh, after the small area of Tyler County. The dog's owner, Judd Travers, is mistreats his animals, hunts out of season, and will often cheat the local shop owner, Mr. Wallace.
When the beagle dog Shiloh follows Marty home, Marty's dad, Ray Preston, insists that it be returned to its owner. When the Shiloh returns, Marty decides to hide the dog. After Shiloh is attacked by another dog, it is revealed that Marty is harboring the dog. A visit to the veterinarian, and Shiloh is once again returned to abusive Judd Travers.
Reading Shiloh for a student in West Virginia is probably the equivalent of reading Bridge to Terabithia for a young Virginian student.Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has uncannily captured the vernacular of this particular part of West Virginia. Typically the dialect in this region is not conventionally southern, but a mixture of a distinct Appalachian blend influenced by the area’s close proximity to Pittsburgh, PA. Evident when the vile Judd Travers says:
“He’s no dog to me at all the way he keeps runnin’ off. It’s fourth time he’s left the pack when I had him out huntin’. I got to teach him a lesson. Whup him good and starve him lean. Wondered if you’d seen him.” This particular dialect seems to rely simply on important words, with no consideration of syntax. (You should he my mother and I have a conversation!)
The book is often read during third, fourth, or fifth grade. The short chapters and simplistic language are easy for young students. But, I believe it is the story of a young boy standing up for what he believes is right that is the most captivating for students. Marty tells Judd: "I'll get the game warden up here, show him the spot the doe was hit, the blood, and when he finds the deer at your place, he'll believe me."Marty begins to assert his position and will no longer stand for Judd Travers' dirty dealings. Is Marty justified in his blackmail, or has he sunk to the likes of Judd just to save a dog? These are the rich questions students begin to tackle as the read this book.
Eleven-year old Marty lives with his parents and two sisters in the small town of Friendly, WV. The towns of Sistersville, Friendly, and Middlebourne are all real places. I have made a map here to show the different places in the area. http://g.co/maps/b34jp
My grandmother particularly loved this book because she grew up in the orphanage in Middlebourne (pictured left). To be able reconnect to her childhood, and ask those ethical questions in which Marty struggles with, I believe the book really made an impact on her. She suffered great abuse at the hands of many people like Judd Travers who would foster her and her sister, Pearl. Once, when we were visiting Tyler County, she mentioned how many people use to have animals, and how poorly these animals were treated. If there was no financial gain involved, then animals were usually just abused and neglected. I often wonder if that is how she felt growing up an orphan?
Compelling and compassionate, Shiloh has helped shed light on the very dark subject of abuse. The power of the human-animal bond, as well as the moral and ethical dilemmas, are presented well in this novel. A classic piece of children's literature, Shiloh can be enjoyed by all ages.