Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Book Review

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor - Book Cover
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Simon and Schuster

Summary of Shiloh

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is an award-winning classic novel about a boy and a dog.  Sometimes figuring out the difference between right and wrong, telling the truth or telling a lie, or whether to be kind or cruel is not a simple choice. In Shiloh, an eleven year old boy vows he’ll do anything to protect a mistreated dog, even if it means twisting the truth and keeping secrets.  Just under 150 pages, Shiloh is a popular book with kids 8 to 12 years old.

Story Line

Walking high up in the hills by his home in Friendly, West Virginia, eleven-year-old Marty Preston finds he’s being trailed by a sad little dog. Fearful at first, the dog shies away from Marty’s outstretched hand but continues to follow him across the bridge and all the way home.

Marty’s attempts to tell the dog to go home are futile and the next day he and his dad drive the dog back to its owner. Marty, who loves animals and wants to be veterinarian, begs to keep the dog and begins calling him Shiloh, but he knows the dog belongs to his cantankerous mean spirited neighbor Judd Travers, a man known for cheating the grocer, shooting animals out of season, and abusing his hunting dogs.

Marty thinks long and hard about ways he can get Shiloh, but finds many obstacles in his way. First, there’s no money. He collects cans, but that doesn’t yield much profit. His parents can’t help because there’s not enough money; he lives in an area where poverty is real and education is a luxury few can afford. His parents struggle to keep food on the table and after sending money to take care of a sickly grandmother, there is very little left and certainly not enough to pay for the upkeep of a pet.

Marty’s dad discourages him from pursuing a veterinarian career because they don’t have the money to send Marty to college. However, the greatest obstacle is Judd Travers. Judd wants his hunting dog, and is not interested in selling or giving it to Marty. Reluctant to leave Shiloh, Marty still hopes that if he can earn enough money he can convince Judd to sell him the dog.

When Shiloh makes a second appearance at the Preston house, Marty decides he will keep the dog regardless of the consequences. Saving food scraps, building a pen, and finding excuses to run up to the hill keep Marty busy and his family aloof. Deciding it’s better to lie and break the law to save Shiloh, Marty keeps him a secret for several days until the night a neighbor’s German Shepherd attacks the small dog leaving him for dead.

Now Marty must face Judd Travers, his parents, and his community about hiding Shiloh and stand up for what he believes is right despite what he knows about laws and being obedient. With maturity and dignity, Marty will be tested to look beyond Shiloh to the one man who will challenge what Marty believes about honesty, forgiveness, and being kind to those who seem to deserve it the least.

Author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Born January 4, 1933 in Anderson, Indiana, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was a clinical secretary, editorial assistant, and a teacher before she became a writer. Naylor published her first book in 1965 and has since written more than 135 books. A versatile and prolific author, Naylor writes stories on a variety of topics for kid and teen audiences. Her books include: 3 novels about Shiloh, the Alice series, Bernie Magruder and the Bats in the Belfry , Beetles, Lightly Toasted and Please Do Feed the Bears, a picture book.

Awards for Shiloh

In addition to the following, Shiloh received more than a dozen state awards.

The Shiloh Quartet

Following the success of Shiloh, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor wrote three more books about Marty and his beloved dog. The first three books have been adapted into family friendly films.

Saving Shiloh
Shiloh Season
A Shiloh Christmas

My Recommendation

Shiloh is a book I often recommend to young library patrons who are looking for a story centering around animal companionship, especially dogs. As much as I love Sounder, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Old Yeller, these wonderful books are for a mature reader, emotionally prepared for complex and tragic story lines.

Although Shiloh addresses the topic of animal abuse, it is written for a younger audience and directed towards a satisfying conclusion. In addition, Shiloh is more than just a story about the relationship between a boy and his dog. It’s a story that brings up questions regarding integrity, forgiveness, judging others, and being kind to people who seem the least deserving.

The characters in Shiloh are remarkably real and underscore Naylor’s belief in creating ordinary characters that do extraordinary things. For an eleven-year-old, Marty seems wise beyond his years. His keen sense of humanity and justice makes him question the moral rules his parents have ingrained. He’s able to make mature decisions about forgiveness, rise above callous remarks, and keep his end of a bargain even when he knows the other person won’t. Marty’s a thinker and when he sees a problem, he’ll work hard for a solution.

Marty is an extraordinary kid who has the potential to lift himself out of poverty, get an advanced education, and bring more kindness into the world. Shiloh is an uplifting story destined to continue to be an inspirational classic for children in the years to come. I highly recommend this 144-page book for readers 8-12 years old. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon and Schuster, 1991, Hardcover ISBN: 9780689316142; 2000, Paperback ISBN: 9780689835827) The book is also available in e-book formats.

More Recommended Books, From Elizabeth Kennedy

Some other award-winning books your children might enjoy include : My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, a classic adventure story; The Adventure of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick; and Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

Edited 3/30/2016 by Elizabeth Kennedy, Children's Books Expert