The Incredible Journey


The Incredible Journey

by Sheila Burnford

Hodder and Stoughton, 1961

127 pp. – 11 chapters

Age: read to – 7+               independent reading – 9+?

Interests: pets, cats, dogs, wilderness, adventure

Next: 1963 Disney movie The Incredible Journey

Three pets – 2 dogs and a cat – set out from a cabin in the Ontario wilderness to find their way back to their family. They travel 300 miles through some very wild territory, encountering bears, moose, and lynx, fatigue, injury, starvation and cold, before finally reuniting with their beloved owners. Through it all they remain steadfastly loyal to each other, bravely facing the most daunting challenges.

This book, written by a Scottish writer who emigrated to Canada, was not very well known until it was made into a Disney film in 1963. It’s a slender volume, but written with quite an advanced vocabulary. The author maintained it was not written for children, but it has always been marketed as a children’s book, and won the Canadian Children’s Book Award in 1961. The animals – a young Labrador (Luath), a sleek Siamese cat (Tao), and a tough old Bull Terrier (Bodger) – are depicted with such fully rounded, unique personalities it’s no surprise that they were based on the author’s own pets. I was particularly relieved that the book didn’t fall into the current animal story cliché of having the animals speak to one another. They communicate only through their actions, which makes their unwavering friendship all the more moving. And, while astonishing, the events are not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

The plot and events of this book are certainly appropriate for age 6, but the way it is written is a little dense for that age to follow when you read it aloud, particularly during the slow beginning before the animals set out. On the other hand, it might be a good challenge for them to listen and try to get the gist of things… with perhaps a few pauses for explanation. Don’t worry though, the animals are on the road by page 24 (in the edition I read) and the narrative becomes much more straightforward and full of action from then on.

This is an immediately engaging and enthralling tale of adventure, told in a very grown-up manner – restrained and realistic. As a read-aloud the beginning is a little slow, but the actual journey should keep everyone on the edge of their seats. The animals are realistic, sympathetic, wonderfully caring, brave and loyal characters. All ages should enjoy these vivid animal personalities.

(available at

NB. Regarding movie versions – all from Disney:

The Incredible Journey (1963) – ages 3+ – This version is a little staid and old-fashioned, but pretty faithful to the book. The animals do not talk, thank goodness.

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) – And then they went too far. This version has non-stop smart-ass voices for the animals, who have also had their names changed to Sassy, Chance and Shadow. ‘Nuff said.

Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco (1996) – My time on earth is finite, and I do not want to waste any of it watching this movie.


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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