As Snowmaggedon looms, at least for those of us in the path of Winter Storm Jonas, I think it’s time to “get out of Dodge.” I propose a journey – and what better destination than Scotland in honour of Robert Burns’ birthday next week (25 January). So grab your kilt and woollies, nab some shortbread and a cup of your favourite steaming beverage, and come along…
Title: Greyfriars Bobby
Written & Illustrated By: Ruth Brown
Andersen Press, 1995
Suitable for Ages: 3-8
Themes/Topics: Animals; Dogs; Loyalty; Travel; Scotland; History
Opening: “I’m fed up with sightseeing,” moaned Tom. “It’s too hot and I’m thirsty.”
Brief Synopsis: Tom and Becky, two young tourists, discover the statue of a Skye Terrier next to Greyfriar’s Churchyard, Edinburgh, Scotland. A friendly gardener relates the tale of the loyal dog, Bobby, who guarded his master’s remains for 14 years, and of the townspeople who cared for him.
Links to Resources: Most of us aren’t in a position to visit Bobby’s statue anytime soon, but anyone who has ever travelled with children can relate to the impatience of young travellers and their fixation with the small details that adults often overlook. Whether we journey to a foreign land, a neighbouring city or state, a local landmark or even around our own home, we can create our own stories about the things we discover. I’ve also created travel “diaries” with my children – pictures they’ve drawn and then I collected and captioned. Learning more about Skye Terriers and life in 19th century Edinburgh will add to any child’s enjoyment of this tale. In addition, Disney (1961) and Piccadilly Pictures/Ursus Films (2005) released movies based on slightly different versions of this story. Both appear to be available in the US.
Why I Like this Book: Whether or not Greyfriars Bobby is a true tale (and the jury is out on this), the statue exists, and the story of Bobby’s loyalty, and the care the townspeople show him after his master’s death, add up to a heart-warming story. Generally, I would prefer a book told from the point of view of someone experiencing the events firsthand- perhaps a child in 19th century Edinburgh. In this case, though, the lens of modern children discovering the past adds a rich layer to the story. Like Bobby who befriends his master, Old Jock, and the café owner who feeds Bobby, a gardener who tends the cemetery befriends the modern travellers. He becomes storyteller, relating Bobby’s saga and providing a glimpse into 19th century Edinburgh. Author/illustrator Ruth Brown adds charming spreads at the beginning and end of this book with 19th century children in the same settings as Tom and Becky. And although this is an older book with quite a bit of text, Brown includes several wordless spreads that evoke Victorian Edinburgh.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!