GREENAWAY MEDAL WINNER -1959
by Anton Chekhov
illustrated by William Stobbs
London: Oxford University Press, 1959
49 pp. – 7 chapters
Age: 8 +
Interests: dogs, circus, theatre, cruelty to animals
Note: a little dark for children – read through it yourself first…
Other: Foxie by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire is another version of the same story which is a little more kid-friendly
Also by this illustrator: A Bundle of Ballads
A small dog, abused and neglected by her owners, becomes accidentally separated from them. She is found and taken in by a man with several other animals – goose, cat, pig – that he uses in a circus act. After the death of the goose, the man trains the dog and finally takes her along for a performance. It doesn’t go very well, but in the midst of it she recognizes her former owners in the audience. She chooses to return to them, despite their previous mistreatment of her.
Okay, it’s Chekhov. You didn’t expect bright and cheery, did you? A strange and unsettling story for a children’s picture book, surely. I really only looked it up as part of my quest to read every Caldecott and Greenaway Medal winner. It’s out of print and hard to find. I was only able to locate a copy in the Toronto Public Library Special Collections… I had to read it onsite, wearing white gloves!
This is an interesting and unusual adventure, told brilliantly from a dog’s point of view, but it is also a story with pretty mature themes – of mortality and death, as well as blind loyalty despite cruel mistreatment. The first chapter shows the first owner getting drunk at every tavern on the way home, and in the second chapter the dog remembers how the man’s son used to beat her and shout at her. Her new home is mysterious at first, but she gets along tolerably well with the other animals and her new owner is kind and generous. Then follows a spooky and restless night, in which the goose dies, and the other animals ponder their own mortality. The ending, in which her old owners call out to her and she joyfully returns to them, may leave children puzzled and dissatisfied, remembering their cruelty to her.
All in all, a difficult story for young readers to digest, and more suitable for slightly older children. If you can find a copy of it at all, I mean.
There are other versions of this story available which have been adapted to make them more child-friendly – usually making the original owners nicer so that the dog’s return to them makes for a happy ending. One that I read with really charming illustrations was Foxie by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire.
This book was awarded the Greenaway Medal for the illustrations of course, which are bold, lively and engaging. They suit the bright and curious first-person narrative perfectly.