The Hundred and One Dalmations (by Dodie Smith)

I loved the stage of reading classic books to my sons when they were young, and am thoroughly enjoying having a six-year-old friend, who also enjoys having books read aloud to her. We've tried various options, after finishing the 'Sophie' series at the end of last year, but none of them held her interest until I started on this classic book by Dodie Smith.

I last read 'The 101 Dalmations' (to myself) in 2005. That's long ago enough that I had forgotten most of the detail of the story, while of course remembering the general plot. As I read, I found that it came back to me (I read it many times as a child) but I was surprised that, once again, I found several sections extremely moving.

The story is probably well-known, if a little distorted by the film versions that have been made. Pongo and his wife Missis live very happily with Mr and Mrs Dearly, and produce a litter of fifteen puppies. They are too many for Missis to handle alone, and they manage to find another dog who still has milk - they call her Perdita - who is able to help. Then, one terrible day, the puppies all vanish, and nobody knows where they have gone.

Pongo is an intelligent dog, and (unknown to humans) dogs communicate all over the country via the 'Twilight Barking' - a kind of canine Twitter. Through this, they learn that their puppies are in an old house in Suffolk. So Pongo and Missus set out on the long journey from London, aided by other dogs along the way, until they discover just how many puppies have been dognapped...

The characterisation of the dogs is extremely well done, to the extent that I could almost believe their adventures to be possible if dogs could indeed communicate so effectively and understand human speech so well. The adventures are exciting - my small friend found some of them a bit scary - but, as with all good children's books, the ending is uplifting and encouraging. I enjoyed reading it aloud (over a few weeks) very much.

For reading to oneself, it's probably appropriate for anyone of about seven or eight and upwards, depending on fluency. As a read-aloud it's ideal for any child who is happy to listen to chapter books with some cliff-hangers.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 22nd March 2012

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