Friday, March 10, 2017

Book Review: 101 Dalmatians! For Adults and Big Kids.

101 Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith (Penguin, 184 pages, 1957, $5.95)

You’ve Seen the Disney Movie, But Have you Read the Book?

You have probably seen the movie countless times since 1961 if you have kids, but did you know 101 Dalmatians was first a book by playwright Dodie Smith (Dorothy Smith 1896-1990) who also wrote I Capture the Castle (a movie in 2003) and numerous other books*?

And the movie is in DVD. See a few DogEvals blogs about it here (Draw Cruella, take a quiz on the movie, adopt the Disney DVD, how many spots?

Delightfully Enthralling

We at DogEvals picked up the 1996 reprint and were we ever glad we did! It was delightfully entertaining even though we knew the story. And even though we knew the story, it was exciting – a bit different from the movie but only a slight bit. (The beginning starts out slightly differently and the return of the pups to London may have differed slightly with perhaps a couple more adventures along the way, but children who know the Disney movie will not be disappointed).

When Television was New

With 18 short chapters, you can read one chapter a night to the kids and the pups or they can read one a night to you (the kids, not the pups!)

The wonder and perhaps the enduring love for this book is revealed in how it shows us that strangers will save us, given the chance to do good. The dogs of England rally around Pongo and Missus to rescue their kidnapped pups and more, to lead them home and protect and feed them along the way. What a lovely lesson for all the children and parents who read 101 Dalmatians!

Secondarily is the canine lesson to never bite a human, especially a child, no matter what that child does. “All very young creatures are ignorantly cruel.” (p. 70) “To bite a human is the greatest crime a dog can commit. You shall not let that cruel, thoughtless child put such a sin on your conscience. Your pain and anger will pass, but the guilt would remain with you or always.”

Great food for thought and topics for discussion with growing little ones.

A Darling Family

The Dearly family, composed of Mr. and Mrs. Dearly; their two childhood nannies, Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler; and their two Dals (Dalmatians), Pongo and Missus, remind us of that other lovely London family, the Darlings of Peter Pan fame. The Darlings have a canine nanny, Nana, a Newfie (Newfoundland).

The Dearlys, “like many other much-loved humans, . . . believed they owned their dogs, instead of realizing that their dogs owned them.” (p. 4)

Remember the Twilight Barking?

Kids, did you know there is also a Nine O’clock Barking and a Midnight Barking? And even a sequel called Starlight Barking?

You will want to know (“Heads’ up, parents!”) what a Great Dane looks like, and a Pomeranian, and a Spaniel, and an English Sheepdog, and a Golden Retriever, and a Setter (‘feather-brained as well as feather-tailed” [p.146]) and a Poodle and a Boxer (aren’t you glad Dodie Smith didn’t name all 480 dogs in the barking chain that relayed the word of the kidnapped 15 Dalmatian pups? “People [even] began to count their children carefully.” [p. 95])

The Story’s for Kids, the Writing’s for Parents

The kids will remember that Dalmatian pups are born “spotless” – “lollopy creatures with clumsy feet. “ (p. 107) They will recognize Lucky, Roly Poly, the Cadpig, and Patch. They will learn that Cruella de Vil’s ear tastes like pepper and “she’s enough to frighten the spots off a pup.” (p. 37)

On the other hand, nearly every page has a phrase or sentence that will take parents for a lovely ride: “. . . usual dogs are really more unusual than unusual dogs.” (p. 28) Adults smile as they read that the dogs “put the Dearlys on their leashes and led them into the park.” (p. 43)

Ms. Smith’s writing is delightful but not contrived. When Pongo has to tell Missus some unfortunate news, he thinks “if he told her before dinner, she might lose her appetite, and if he told her afterwards, she might lose her dinner.” (p. 51)

And Who is the Hundred and Oneth Dalmatian?

Read the book to find out! And discover how Dodie Smith “Made England Safe for Dalmatians” again.

*Starlight Barking is the sequel. Did you even know there is a sequel to 101 Dalmatians?

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