This month’s pick for the children’s book I would take to my island is probably going to be a surprising one because it is not the best-loved book by this author. Philippa Pearce is most well-known as the author of Tom’s Midnight Garden but the book of hers which I have chosen is A Dog So Small.
Young Ben Blewitt is desperate for a dog. He’s picked out the biggest and best dogs from the books in the library – and he just knows he’s going to get one for his birthday. Ben is excited when the big day arrives, but he receives a picture of a dog instead of a real one! But the imagination can be a powerful thing, and when Ben puts his to work, his adventures really begin!
This is the story of a young boy who longs for a dog to be his friend. Ben is the middle child in his family of five. With two older sisters and two younger brothers, Ben doesn’t really fit in with either group and would love a dog to alleviate his loneliness. But, living in a small house in south London with six other people, it just isn’t possible. His only contact with dogs is when he visits his grandparents in the country. However, Ben’s hopes are raised when his grandfather hints that they may give him a dog for his birthday.
On the day, he is disappointed when only a picture of a tiny dog is delivered. However, after his initial disappointment, Ben becomes intrigued by the image of the tiny dog that his great-uncle brought back from Mexico. As he learns more and more about the chihuahua embroidered in the picture, his imagination begins to imbue the dog with life until it becomes more real to him than what surrounds him in real life. As Ben is consumed by his imaginary life, things in the real world take a terrible turn, but then finds sometimes dreams come true in unexpected ways.
The story really captures the power of a child’s dreams, and the disappointment that needs to be faced when the reality which manifests doesn’t match the fantasy. This author really understands the emotions of a child and is adept at expressing them on the page. When I was young and read this book. I could relate to what Ben was feeling and all the range of emotions he went through, and the book is still powerful even now when I went back to it. The way he feels loneliness and isolation in the midst of a big family, and the comfort and love animals can bring is a universal experience that many people share. The thing children want most is to be understood, and this book can make a child feel that way, which is a real skill in an author.
A very unique story that I can still see why I loved as a child.
You can buy a copy of A Dog So Small here.
About the Author
Philippa Pearce spent her childhood in Cambridgeshire and was the youngest of four children of a flour-miller. The village, the river, and the countryside in which she lived appear more or less plainly in Minnow on the Say and Tom’s Midnight Garden.
She later went on to study English and History at Cambridge University. She worked for the BBC as a scriptwriter and producer, and then in publishing as an editor. She wrote many books including the Modern Classic, Tom’s Midnight Garden, for which she won the Carnegie Medal. She was also awarded an OBE for services to Children’s Literature.
Sadly, Philippa died in 2006, at the age of 86.