101 Dalmatiansby Dodie Smith was our ninth or tenth chapter book read-aloud of 2014, and one of only four books for the year so far that isn’t a part of a series. Since we’ve spent so much time in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain or with Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy family this year (and enjoyed both so much!), this doggy romp through London and the English countryside was an exciting, entertaining, and very enjoyable diversion. I knew very little about the story besides what I remembered from a long-ago viewing of the Disney movies (both the cartoon—years and years ago—and the newer live action film) and from reading Disney picture books to my children. I read this one with very few expectations, which is perhaps the best way of all to enjoy a story. The novel is different from the Disney version, of course, with the most remarkable difference for me being the fact that Pongo is “married” to the Missis, not Perdita, though Perdita is also in the story. I thought this difference was interesting and unusual and made me wonder why Smith chose to write the story this way since as far as I can discern it really doesn’t do a whole lot to further the plot. (I mean, she could’ve still had 101 dalmatians by upping the number of other pups rescued!) Anyway, I just thought that was interesting.
My favorite part of the story is the whole point of view: I love that the story is told totally from the dogs’ perspectives and that they have their own society and way of doing things. I got a kick out of the fact that Pongo and the Missis called the Dearlys their “pets,” and I love the whole Twilight Barking phenomenon. The characterization of the dogs (and cat!) is very well done, and since I’ll choose a novel with rich characterization over one with an exciting plot any day of the week, I really enjoyed that aspect of it. I even learned a new word by reading this story—I had never heard of a cadpig before, so adding that little gem to my personal lexicon made my inner linguist happy.
I will admit that one aspect of the story gives me pause: the characterization and description of Cruella de Vil being associated with evil was a little more than I cared to read to my children. I did a bit of editing in certain places. I might not have done that initially if we hadn’t had a guest staying with us at the time. I didn’t feel comfortable reading references to the devil, Hell House, etc. with an eight year old guest listening in. As the story went on (and our guest went home), I was glad that I had, though. This element of the story was fairly pervasive, and since I have at least one sensitive child, this wasn’t something I really wanted to introduce to her imagination. These things sometimes come back to haunt us at bedtime.
This is a book all of us—including the four year old DLM—really enjoyed, and I’m glad to mark it off my Classics Club list with a Highly Recommended!
Did you read along with us? Tell us so in the comment section below! If you've read the book in the past and have thoughts to share, we'd love to hear from you!