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Book Review: Seamus the Sheltie to the Rescue! by James Beverly

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The storytelling in Seamus the Sheltie to the Rescue! is parabolic, each chapter a new episode for Seamus to teach a new lesson. Seamus teaches lessons of friendship, safety, kindness, and mercy to his animal audience and the families reading these stories. The moral aims are much more ambitious than the “be nice” tropes often found in children’s literature, which is a very good thing. The first chapter is the best executed, with an outsider (an intimidating, big dog) becoming the hero. This character’s big size, which initially causes the others to ostracize her, becomes the saving force when others are in danger.

The author, James Beverly, really desires for this to be a thoroughly enjoyable learning experience for the whole family. The noble subject matter is accompanied by an appendix of questions and answers to compliment each story during family time. Despite these good intentions, the execution ranges from strange to poor and spoils the work.

The biggest problem with the book is its readability. Seamus is pronounced “shay-mus,” and the dialogue is intended to sound like what actual dialogue between animals would sound like. The shape of each animal’s mouth, tongue, and intelligence level were factored into this approach. This creates huge problems for the book, as evidenced by lines like:

Rottweiler ‘post to ‘tect dat fambly an’ stuff! (18)
Dem birds dey friend dis Seamus. Seamus gonna hep dem birds. (73)
Eddybody gon’ dis place. Dey no critters inna dis yard. (90)

Basically, it sounds like a remake of Uncle Remus. And even if you don’t find the Remus tales offensive — with stereotypical language put in the mouths of blacks by a white author — finding said language in the mouths of dogs will bring you closer to offense. I honestly think this effect was unintended, but even someone that takes the time to read the author’s explanation and check the glossary (“Breff – Breath;” “’Post – Supposed”) will not be able to get past it, in my estimation. This is a crucial error: in an ideal reading, if a parent and child remember to pronounce it “Shay-mus” and ignore the other Remus similarities, the result is a phonics lesson over animals with speech impediments. That is hardly a worthwhile goal to risk all of the hazard it creates.

The stories are way too heavy on exposition. Chapter four idles for nine pages before the plan regarding some mean possums, which drives the conflict, develops. The editor should have used a bigger red pen, cleaning up redundant tag lines and explanations (“In the blink of an eye, the big Daddy goose suddenly flapped his huge wings,” 83), as well as mistakes in grammar and punctuation (“These winds often knocked down power lines and can topple over very large trees,” 21; “Seamus grinned as her watched from his hiding place under the bush,” 81).

It’s a shame that this collection has so many detractions. There are interesting observations and narration throughout the book, at times humorous (newly acquainted dogs sniff each other on page 15). It succeeds in moral seriousness, thoroughness, and in developing a likable main character, but the concept would need to be significantly reworked for me to recommend it.

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About Cray Allred

  • Thank you for the clarity and lack of meanness in this review. You did a great job. I feel that there is something worth while about the stories, but the “Negro” dialect will turn many away.
    I appreciate your willingness to tackle this and also the author’s good intentions!