Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A Dog So Small - Philippa Pearce

Continuing my habit of reading books from my childhood, I picked up Philippa Pearce's A Dog So Small at the library on Saturday. I had forgotten much of the story in this very short book, in the intervening decades, except for the fact of the very small dog. The story opens with Ben Blewitt waking early on the morning of his birthday, anticipating that he will have a dog of his own. His grandfather had promised him one for his birthday and even though Ben knows the impossibility of having a dog in London, he still expects to receive news of the dog, if not the animal itself, on his birthday. Instead he receives a picture done in wool, of a Chihuahua called Chiquitito (the Spanish word for very, very small) which had been given to Ben's Granny by her son Willy as a souvenir of his third (and last voyage) as a sailor.

Ben is bitterly disappointed and swears never to visit his grandparents again, but he goes to stay with them in their home in the country shortly afterwards. It is on his return trip to London that he suddenly sees Chiquitito for the first time behind his closed eyelids. From then on he and the dog are inseparable, sharing Ben's dreams and then his waking hours, as he sits with a hand shading his eyes to disguise the fact that they're closed. Finally, on Christmas Eve, with presents unbought, Ben follows Chiquitito across a busy London road, with his eyes closed and is knocked down. He has terrible nightmares whilst he is unconscious from the accident, but he survives. He goes to live with his grandparents to recuperate, having been surprised by the news that his grandparents' dog, "Young Tilly" (who is in fact quite old), has had nine puppies. His mother accompanies Ben to visit her parents and whilst there, she and her mother have a conversation that leads, on her return to London, to a discussion with her husband and a decision to move to North London, near Hampstead Heath, to be near their newly married daughter, May, and her sister Dilys who is sharing a flat with them. And Ben is promised one of Tilly's puppies…

That isn't the end of the story, nor is it by any means an obvious happy ending, for Ben finds that his puppy is not the Chiquitito of his imaginings, but a flesh and blood and fur puppy with his own personality. At first Ben rejects the puppy, when he discovers this, but then he comes to his senses, and instead of abandoning it on Hampstead Heath as he had half-planned, he takes it home.

This is a brilliant book. It talks of the power of the imagination, especially a child's imagination - and the dangers as well as the pleasures of a powerful imagination that brings things to life. It also talks about the making and breaking of promises, and the difficulty of living with something that has been wished for and longed for - the old adage about being careful what you wish for as you might get it, certainly applies here. But in the end, the story ends happily, and though it is short, it is engaging.

9 comments:

Liz said...

Thanks, Michele. I keyed in Dog So Small as have nearly finished Tom's Midnight Garden with my daughter. I loved A Dog So Small as a child and found it very moving on rereading it as an adult. It was wonderful to read my thoughts about it echoed in your blog. It's inspired me to write my first ever blog comment which is probably not the technical description for it but it will do.

Liz (NZ)

Michele said...

Congratulations on your first ever comment - and I'm honoured you posted it on my Blog.

I'm delighted that you enjoyed "A Dog So Small" - it's interesting that you also re-read it as an adult after reading it as a child...

Liz said...

Yes, I rediscovered my favourite children's books having loaned my own copies to the sister of a friend whose mother then threw out the box of books when she moved. It's still something that leaves me speechless but it led, a couple of years later and beyond, to my gathering titles from charity shops in the UK and in the process discovering new authors so, as people are wont to say here in NZ, it's all good . . . or indirectly so. Even found a Susan Cooper with my name plate in it in a local charity shop. Children's literature was a source of sanity as a child: I read it partly to make sense of family dynamics and partly to escape them. Rereading books I was familiar with was a strange and vivid point of reentry into my childhood of which I have few memories otherwise. I'm now reading my old favourites with my 8-year-old daughter which is to see them in a different light again.

Michele said...

Threw out an entire box of someone else's books?!

YIKES !!

Which Susan Cooper?

Liz said...

Yes. There was rare (in my experience), instantaneous and mutual antipathy between this mother and I when we met. She was married to an academic to boot so can't be exonerated on the grounds of not appreciating the value of books. She was moving house when she threw them out and divorcing in the process or vice versa and having recently experienced that combination I know it isn't easy. However . . .

The Susan Cooper was The Grey King.

Michele said...

Hmm, not sure moving and divorcing is enough of an excuse - but then I've never been married, let alone divorced !

Have you read the rest of the "Dark is Rising" series?

Liz said...

My friend's mother throwing out my books is the thing in my life I've found hardest to forgive, oddly, perhaps because I can't understand the action and because it seems so gratuitous somehow.

Yes, I have read the 'Dark is Rising' series but I haven't reread them as an adult. I shall do so. Thanks for the prompt.

Michele said...

It's very gratuitous and I'd find it hard to forgive or forget in your shoes...

Welcome for the prompt to re-read DiR - hope you enjoy it again.

Carol & Roger said...

thank you for this blog - I remember an old teacher reading this to the whole class at the end of each day. I am a teacher myself and have thought of reading this to my own class - I now live in NZ and teach in a very low grade school - the kids love hearing me read, their homelife is tough - I want them to expand their own immaginations - and I think 'a dog so small' will resonate with both girls and boys alike. Now I just have to order myself a copy from somewhere!!