Middle School Teacher in Rural Alaska

The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle

on January 8, 2012

After reading the 1922 Newberry Award winner Story of Mankind it was a nice to launch into the imaginative The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle by Hugh Lofting.

The reason this book is so good is that its basic premise plays on a profound human desire: the desire to communicate with animals.  As a dog owner, I have learned to pay careful attention to my dog’s body language. I can tell when he is anxious, when he needs to go outside, when he is hungry, etc. But I can never really know what he is thinking. I think many people who interact with animals have felt this yearning to know what goes on in their minds.  Thus, it’s incredibly fun to read about Dr. Doolittle talking with the animals he meets. The best parts of this book are the human-animal interactions: Dr. Doolittle scheming with the bulls to get bullfighting outlawed on a Spanish island, Dr. Doolittle asking porpoises to help rescue his crew after a storm destroys their ship, Dr. Doolittle calling birds to come attack an invading army, etc. Nearly every scene that involves human-animal interaction is amusing and entertaining.

Unfortunately, the parts of the book that center only on human interactions are not as fascinating. The chunk of the book that is set on Spidermonkey Island and chronicles the interations of Dolittle with the indigenous people is simply not very interesting.  While the human interactions was the main thing I disliked about this book, I also found the ending to be a bit far-fetched. In the end of the book Dolittle and his companions journey on the bottom of the ocean inside the shell of an enormous snail who is “as large as a big house” and has a shell that “is made of transparent mother-o’pearl so that you can see through it.” While certainly imaginative and creative, I found this part of be fairly absurd. It reminded me of the unrevised endings to some of my students’ nanowrimo stories. With the deadline looming they rushed to get anything on the page to try to get to an ending. While my students later revised their stories it seemed like Hugh Lofting didn’t revise his story to have a coherent ending.

Although there are some plot issues, the scenes where Dr. Doolittle and the narrator interact with animals make this book worth reading. If, like me, you have never read this book before it is definitely worth reading. If you can find a child to read it aloud to, even better, kids will love the imaginative nature of it!


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