One Dog and his Boy, by Eva Ibbotson
One dog and his boy, by Eva Ibbotson, illustrated by Sharon Rentta, published by Marion Lloyd, ISBN 9781407124230, £10.99
Reviewed by Roshan Daryanani
One Dog and His Boy begins with the words 'All Hal every wanted was a dog'. Hal, the story's protagonist, lives in a large house with his affluent parents. They are very reluctant to grant Hal what he so eagerly wishes for. However, when Hal's father discovers the 'Easy Pets Dog Agency' he decides he has found the perfect solution - to simply rent a dog for the weekend after which he is convinced his son will tire of this new plaything.
Unsurprisingly, Hal and his animated new companion, Fleck, turn out to be kindred spirits. Soon, however, Hal discovers that his parents have only rented the dog for two days. He realises that if he wants to keep Fleck, it's time to take matters into his own hands. With the help of his new friend Pippa and a few other lively canine allies from Easy Pets Dog Agency, he sets out on a journey towards his grandparents who live in the North of England. They are the two people whom Hal believes will understand him better than his parents do, as seen in the following extract from the book.
'"Never mind your parents," said Pippa. "What about your grandparents? The people you're escaping to. What are they like? Describe them."
"They're very kind and . . . quiet but not soft at all. They're like . . . it sounds silly, but like trees, or earth . . . things that are just there and you don't think about them but it would be awful if they were gone."'
Those who have read Eva Ibbotson's work know that it is honest and uncomplicated; this may be even more true of One Dog and His Boy than of her other books. Hal is perhaps less well characterised than most of her previous protagonists. Additionally, the first half of the book lacks the pace that Ibbotson's other books, like Journey to the River Sea, have. However, Ibbotson's gentle humour is coupled with a clear sense of empathy for children (and for dogs!). To describe a momentous event in the life of a Pekinese dog who befriends Hal, she writes: 'He could see, he could move, he was revealed as he really was. A lion dog, a fighter, the guardian of emperors, not a pampered plaything for old ladies. His little squashed face looked out at the clear, clean world, and his pop eyes glowed in the morning light. Someone had understood him, someone had found out who he really was!'
Although the intended audience of the book probably ranges from around ten to twelve years of age, I believe that it will also appeal to an older audience and particularly to those who have an interest in children's democracy. In characterising Hal's grandparents, Ibbotson presents the reader with the view that adults who trust children and value them as they are earn children's respect. Furthermore, the playful and highly intelligent dogs in the story contribute a large dose of wisdom and warmth.
One Dog and His Boy was Eva Ibbotson's last book and in my opinion, it is one that is filled with valuable lessons. What you take away from Hal's experience will depend on your own perspective. In my opinion, the book is a timely and enjoyable reminder that individuals need to be trusted to make their own choices. It is a story about finding your place in the world and perhaps most importantly… being free.