In the winner of the 1991 Newbery Award for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children, Marty finds that his neighbor, Judd Travers, is mistreating his hunting dogs and when a beagle puppy follows him home, he realizes it is Judd's. When Marty's dad makes him return the dog to the rightful owner he questions the justice of putting the shy, fearful animal with a master who is cruel. In West Virginia hill country, however, the authority doesn't reside in an 11-year-old boy.
Marty thinks often of the beagle, who he had called Shiloh, and when the dog runs from its owner again, it comes to Marty. The dog is hidden in a pen and Marty sneaks food daily. "Wish I could let him make a little noise . . . But he's happy-quiet, not scared-quiet. I know that much."The lies and guilt become an obsession with the boy. Nightly he prays, "Jesus . . . which do you want me to do? Be one hundred percent honest and carry that dog back to Judd so that one of your creatures can be kicked and starved all over again, or keep him here and fatten him up to glorify your creation?"
Marty is found out when a German shepherd dog jumps into the pen and nearly kills Shiloh. Even though Dad takes Shiloh to the family doctor (a vet is not available) he insists the puppy must be returned to Judd Travers.
While Shiloh heals in the protective custody of Marty's family, Marty makes a deal with Judd Travers to buy Shiloh in exchange for farm work. The old man (who names his hunting dogs according to the amount of money he paid for them) is never trusted until the end when Marty has finished his laborious work. Only then can Shiloh be claimed by Marty.
Twists of events, tension and anger at a mean animal owner are all part of "Shiloh." Principles of the folks in Friendly, W.Va., reign with the underlying issues of a person's word as bargain. The problem of Judd Travers killing a deer out of season, which Marty witnesses, is never resolved. Certainly this is a discussion point since breaking the law, making deals and honor are all parts of the same series of events.
"Shiloh" is a simple story with as much tenderness and tears as "Old Yeller" and "Where the Red Fern Grows." In this award-winning book, however, the happy resolution is laden with social issues surrounding a folk people and a boy's wisdom and strength that are universal themes.
The author, who has written more than 50 books, met the dog Shiloh is based on in this story during a visit to West Virginia. "It was the saddest dog I ever saw." For weeks she thought about the animal until she did what she had traditionally done, worked it out in a fictional way. "Like a patchwork quilt, a novel is made up of things that have happened to me and things I have heard or read about, all mixed up with imaginings."
Naylor adds that the story of the dog she cited is a happy one. Friends took the dog in and named her Clover.