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The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan

Two children, Flora and Nicholas, lost in a snowstorm after their car goes off the road and their mother goes for help, are rescued by an Irish wolfhound named Teddy. Teddy has learned to love words from his person Sylvan, a poet who adopted Teddy and brought him to his cabin in the woods where he wrote and taught aspiring poets. The children and Teddy can communicate because, as Sylvan said, “only poets and children” can hear dogs speak. Sylvan has recently died and Teddy is now looked after by Ellie, a student of Sylvan’s who comes by the cabin regularly to tend to Teddy. For several days, the roads are not passable, so the children and Teddy hunker down in the cabin. Teddy shares the sad story of Sylvan’s illness and death while the children cook, gather wood from the shed, and shovel the snow until Ellie and then the children’s parents arrive. In the happy ending, Teddy is adopted by the children’s family. Sylvan had told Teddy before his death to “find a jewel or two” and we learn that Flora’s middle name is Jewel and her mother’s name is Ruby, which adds a bit of magic to the story. Tender and moving, with beautiful, poetic language, this is a quiet and contemplative story about loss, love, and family.

One thing about the book that rang false to me is the original premise that united the children and Teddy – that two young children would be left alone while their car is towed, but if you can get past that one jarring and implausible plot contrivance, this is a beautiful story. The children were never really in danger and Flora left a note for her mother, so the parents weren’t worried, which makes the book appropriate for younger readers, while adults will have to overlook the plot contrivance to get to the heart of the story.

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