For those who know me personally and for those who only know me virtually my love of dogs is apparent to all. When I say I love dogs, I mean there has never been a human being as wonderful as any of my four dogs. If I should meet a human who surpasses the pure generosity, compassion, loyalty, love and joy of a dog, then surely there is reincarnation. A dog must have been sent back in the form of a human to show us how to better live our lives.
Even before I read the first page of the first chapter of Patricia MacLachlan's new title, the book found a permanent place in my heart. Here is what I read:
Dogs speak words
But only poets
If I never went on to read the rest of The Poet's Dog (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 13, 2016), I would have been satisfied with those four lines. But I did read the book...again and again.
I found the boy at dusk.
The individual speaking to us is a dog. The boy he found is lost in a blizzard; so is his younger sister. They were left in a car by their mother who sought help. Someone else told them the car would be towed for the plows. Frightened they venture out looking for their parent.
The dog goes on to tell us about Sylvan, a poet, who saved him from a shelter. Sylvan read to him and talked to him until he understood words. Now it's the dog's turn to save the children.
Teddy, an Irish wolfhound, leads them from the pond, past a large rock and along a path to a cabin sitting in a clearing in the woods. A light, always lit, shows them the way. Flora and Nicholas, Nickel, understand words too. They understand the words Teddy utters. Now my friends you have the perfect setting for a book you will never forget; a blizzard, two lost children, a lone cabin in the woods and a dog who talks. But remember only poets and children can hear him.
Over the course of several days as the wind howls, snow falls and the power flickers off and on, through the conversations between Flora, Nickel and Teddy, we come to understand how the relationship grew between Sylvan and Teddy. We are intimately aware of the special qualities of each child. We follow along as the three work to navigate this thing we call life. And what of the poet Sylvan you ask? You simply must read this book.
Every time I read this book I can feel the sheer beauty of every single line fill my soul with hope, a hope that stays. (I have always believed everything in our futures depends on children.) Chapter by chapter you can sense love growing; love between a poet and his dog, love between a poet and one particular student and love between two children and a dog who finds them. Every word written by Patricia MacLachlan provides an exquisite connection to the next.
Her descriptions of the storm raging outside and the quiet haven created by the children and the dog take you deep into this story. After a particularly poignant portion (more than one) you will find yourself stopping and thinking about relationships and what makes them endure. You will also realize if you have not already done so, a single individual, dog or human, can make a difference. Here are some passages.
"Poets and children" said Sylvan. "We are the same really. When you can't find a poet, find a child. Remember that."
Or was it four days? Being alone confuses the truth about time.
In the night I got up once to push up the door lever with my nose and go outside into the wind.
Nickel raised his head.
"Where are you going?"
His voice sounded frightened.
"I'm going to pee," I said.
I heard Flora's sleepy, comforting voice in the dark.
"He's a dog," Flora said softly.
"Oh, right," said Nickel. "I keep forgetting that."
I came back to my red rug next to Nickel.
His arm went around me again.
"Sometimes I forget, too," I said to Nickel.
There was no silence in the cabin, even at night. The wind was like a wild song that pushed away the quiet.
The Poet's Dog written by Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan with dust jacket artwork by Kenard Pak is one of my favorite books of 2016. It is a book I will read over and over. I will read it aloud to anyone who will listen. It is distinguished.
To learn more about Patricia MacLachlan enjoy this video interview released by the publisher three years ago.
At the publisher's website you can read and listen to an excerpt from the book.