Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Reader's Diary #495- Farley Mowat: The Dog Who Wouldn't Be

Despite not being a fan of Farley Mowat (the man or the author), I somehow find myself reading him again and again. Way back in my elementary school days a teacher read us Lost In The Barrens (since renamed Two Against The North). I loved it. Maybe a part of me has been trying to recapture that experience-- alas, it is not meant to be.

More than trying to relive my childhood, I also picked The Dog That Wouldn't Be for my daughter as a nightly read-aloud. She loved Anne of Green Gables and Jacob Two-Two's First Spy Case, I figured another Canadian classic was in order. Plus, it had a dog wearing goggles on the front, it would probably be funny, or at least cute.

Unfortunately, I think the book has been marketed poorly. I don't see this as a book aimed at children but as a memoir written for adults. "...he was the most phlegmatic man I ever knew. Nothing could disturb his equanimity." Now, I'm all for introducing new vocabulary to children, but words like phlegmatic and equanimity were way too common. Just grabbing my book at random: ignominy, balustrade, and harridans.

I don't mind "increasing my word power" as it were, but I could tell my daughter had just zoned out, not grasping most of what was going on. I offered several times to quit and get a new book, usually when she'd break out into rousing renditions of "Tomorrow" from Annie, or "Black Day In July" by Gordon Lightfoot, when both songs didn't relate to the story at all. But she'd insist on continuing, just for the sake of finishing (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree). The ultimate proof of her detachment from the story came at the end when (spoiler alert!) Mutt got hit by a car. A few years ago our cat was hit by a car and when I realized this was to be Mutt's fate, I trod very carefully, reading slowly and watching to see if she could handle it. When we got to the end she just sat there brushing the hair of one of her dolls. "Did you understand what happened, darling?" I asked.


So, perhaps cruelly, I read it again, ever slower.


"He got hit by a car, sweetie."


"Like Nanuq." (That was our cat. I was really pushing this, eh?)

"Oh... we should read Heidi, next!"

This was a book that wouldn't be. Interesting, that is. It may be fine as an adult book, but it's not, as it says on the back, a "very funny book for readers of all ages."


Nikki in Niagara said...

I have to admit I haven't read this one aloud. I enjoyed it when I read it as a kid. My dh just finsihed reading Owls in the Family as the bedtime read aloud to our 8yo and he loved it, the 8yo that is, well so did dh esp. since he's from Sask.! I read Lost in the Barrens and the sequel to my oldest but that was when he was about 12.

I don't agree with Farley's politics but we seem to love his books around here even when the distinction between fact and fiction is admittedly fuzzy.

John Mutford said...

Nicola: At five, maybe my daughter was too young. Also, maybe better suited as an independent read rather than a read aloud. I certainly don't remember being bombarded with big words for Lost In The Barrens but I think that was around grade four. I didn't know there was a sequel! Damn you Farley! Just when I thought I was out, you draw me back in...

Nikki in Niagara said...

Yep, it's called The Curse of the Viking Grave!

raidergirl3 said...

I tried to read this last year and gave up. After adoring Owls in the Family (as a read aloud with my 7 year old) I thought this would be similar, but it is for a much older crowd.
Interestingly, The Dog who wouldn't be is listed in our library as:
jr fiction
jr nonfiction
young adult fiction
adult nonfiction

John Mutford said...

Nicola: Ha! I even own a copy of that book. I just haven't read it, or even the back of it apparently.

Raidergirl: At one site I found last night, it was listed for babies to preschoolers. Maybe there's a board book version I haven't heard of? Pat The Ersatz Dog, perhaps?

Wanda said...

I'm a fan of the dog named for the man (For Better or Worse), does that count?

I picked up this book from the library last fall after my 8-y.o. daughter read and loved 'Owls in the Family'. She's crazy about dogs and I thought it was a kids book. No wonder it's the only book she's never finished!