76 pages • 2 hours readPhyllis Reynolds Naylor
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Eleven-year-old Marty Preston fights to save an abused beagle from its cruel owner in Shiloh (1991). Marty bonds with the dog, Shiloh, and learns more about himself and others as he struggles to reconcile the letter of the law with what he knows in his heart is right. Acclaimed children’s author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor based Shiloh on a poignant, personal encounter with a mistreated dog. Marty’s character struggles with the same issues that troubled Naylor after she met the stray dog: moral ambiguity, animal cruelty, and personal responsibility. Shiloh won the Newbery Medal in 1992, the IRA-CBC (International Reading Association & the Children’s Book Council) Teacher Choice Award in 1994, and is the recipient of many state book awards. Shiloh is followed by three other titles comprising the Shiloh quartet: Shiloh Season, Saving Shiloh, and A Shiloh Christmas. The book was adapted for film in 1996. Pagination in this guide refers to the Atheneum Books for Young Readers edition, ISBN 987-0-689-83582-7.
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Marty and his family live in rural West Virginia, where people value their privacy. Marty and his Ma, Dad, and two little sisters, three-year-old Becky and seven-year-old Dara Lynn, live in a four-room house in the hills above the town of Friendly. Marty’s family scrapes to get by, and there is just enough food for the five of them—no extra for a family pet, although Marty has always longed for a dog. Marty does his part around the house without expecting compensation and enjoys wandering the woods. Marty loves animals and is sensitive to their pain and suffering.
On one of his rambles, Marty is followed by timid, cowering beagle. Marty can tell the dog has been abused by the way it slinks behind him and stays silent. When Marty whistles, the beagle rushes to him, licking him joyfully. The dog follows Marty home. Marty names the dog Shiloh, after the area where Marty found him.
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Marty’s parents will not let Marty keep Shiloh. Marty’s dad realizes that Shiloh is a missing hunting dog that belongs to a disagreeable neighbor, Judd Travers. Marty hates Judd because the man lies, cheats, poaches, and mistreats his dogs. Marty does not want to return Shiloh to Judd, but his dad is adamant: Shiloh is Judd’s dog and none of their business. On Shiloh’s return, Judd immediately kicks the beagle for running away. Marty feels like he betrayed the little dog.
Marty cannot get Shiloh off his mind and tries to earn money collecting cans to buy the dog from Judd, but times are hard in Friendly and there are few cans and no work to be found. When Marty discovers Shiloh outside his home again, he vows never to return the dog to Judd. Instead, Marty builds a pen for Shiloh in the woods and keeps Shiloh a secret from everyone.
Marty is forced to lie to his family, his friend David Howard, and others as he desperately tries to source food for Shiloh without taking food from his family’s mouth. Marty is deeply conflicted about what is right and what is wrong but determines that his dishonesty is for a righteous cause: to save Shiloh’s life.
Marty keeps back part of his meals, gets extra food from Mrs. Howard, and buys expired food from the local store to feed Shiloh. As Marty’s lies mount, he becomes increasingly anxious that Shiloh will be discovered. Ma, suspicious of Marty’s new eating habits, follows him to Shiloh’s pen. Marty begs her not to tell anyone for a day, to give him time to try and think of a solution. Ma agrees, even though she knows that secrets are damaging.
That night, the family hears cries of pain from Shiloh’s pen. Marty and his dad discover that a vicious German Shepherd has jumped into the pen and injured the beagle badly. They rush Shiloh to Doc Murphy, who stitches him up, and Marty is forced to tell Doc Murphy the truth.
Dad is angry at Marty for keeping Shiloh secret and lying to him, but agrees to let Marty keep the dog in the house until Shiloh heals. Afterwards, they will return the dog to Judd. As Shiloh recuperates, the entire family grows attached to him. Judd discovers that Shiloh is at the Preston’s house and demands the beagle’s return by that Sunday. Judd refuses their offer to buy Shiloh.
Marty is unswerving in his decision to keep Shiloh. He plans to offer Judd an ultimatum: sell Shiloh, or Marty will turn Judd in to the authorities for abusing his animals. On the way to Judd’s house, Marty witnesses Judd kill a female deer out of season. Marty understands this offense carries a large fine. He blackmails Judd, saying he will not report the illegal kill if Judd gives him Shiloh. Judd angrily agrees if Marty adds twenty hours of hard work into the bargain. Judd signs a paper sealing the deal.
Judd assigns Marty backbreaking tasks around his property and tries to get Marty to quit and break his end of the deal. Marty perseveres even when Judd declares that the paper he signed is worthless because there was no witness. During the time Marty spends at Judd’s, he learns more about the man and his unhappy childhood. Marty tries to encourage Judd to treat his dogs better. Marty is convinced that Judd will not let him keep Shiloh, but on his last day of work, Judd gives Marty an old collar and announces that Shiloh is his. Marty and his family are overjoyed, knowing the happiness Shiloh brings them is worth any cost.
By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor