The Poet's Dog

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Poet's Dog Book Poster Image
Talking dog helps stranded kids in gentle book about grief.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Names of writers: Yeats, Shakespeare, James Joyce, Wordsworth, Natalie Babbitt, Billy Collins. Names of children's books: Charlotte's Web, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Morning Girl, Oxcart Man. Examples of simple poems. Information on Irish wolfhounds. Meaning of "poignant" explained.

Positive Messages

Loved ones are still with us after they die. When we need help or are alone, we will be taken care of. Helping others helps us, too. Expressing ourselves through poetry is a good thing.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Teddy is brave and caring, going out to rescue the children and take care of them during a storm. The children keep the hearth going, make food, and are kind to Teddy. Ellie takes care of Sylvan when he's sick and takes care of Teddy after Sylvan dies. The family adopts Teddy when he's alone and in need. Sylvan teaches and mentors young people who want to write poetry.

Violence & Scariness

Reference to a man having died a few days before this story starts.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Poet's Dog is a slim novel by award-winner Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall) written in her signature spare, poetic prose. This one deals with loss and has a fantasy element: a talking dog. The loss is the recent death of the dog's owner, an older poet, and the dog reminisces about their happy life together. There's some talk of the illness and death, though that's handled gently, without a lot of graphic detail. That story's embedded in another, more immediate story in which the dog sets out to rescue two children stranded in a severe winter storm. The children can understand him when he talks, just like the poet could, and everyone in this book writes poetry or writes in their journals to express their tender feelings.

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What's the story?

THE POET'S DOG is narrated by a dog, Teddy, whose owner, Sylvan, was a poet and writing teacher who died a few days before the story starts. Teddy's now in their cabin alone, fed by Sylvan's favorite writing student. But when a severe winter storm hits, snowing in the roads, Teddy ventures out and finds two kids, a brother and sister, stranded in the storm and leads them back to the safety of the cabin. There, they spend a few days stoking fires and cooking meals concocted from canned goods in the pantry, and Teddy gets to know the two kids as they wait for the storm to end and help to arrive. He also reminisces about his life with Sylvan. Will the kids' parents come to get them? And will Teddy find a new home? 

Is it any good?

This book is a spare, moving story about love and loss written by a masterful author of beloved children's classics. Though the main characters are a talking dog and two kids, The Poet's Dog is tinged with the feel of an older person looking back wistfully on life, so it might best be appreciated by sensitive kids who themselves have poetic souls. Sections in italics recount Teddy's life with Sylvan and the writing sessions Sylvan had with his students, including some simple poems that add meaning to the story. There's not a lot of text, but what's there is filled with gems and polished detail. For instance, "The students who want to be poets are eager and fresh, like washed apples." Before he passed, Sylvan taught Teddy the meaning of the word "poignant," and sensitive young readers will find this book to be an excellent example.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the fantasy element in The Poet's Dog. Why do you think the author chose to have a talking dog? Why do you think poets and children can hear him and others can't?

  • Why are some parts of the story written in italics and others not? What part of the story do the passages in italics tell?

  • Have you ever lost any loved ones or a pet? How do you feel when you remember them? What comforts you?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love animal tales and books about grief

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