Review By JESSICA ALMY
Popular culture and movies abound with depictions of Doctor Dolittle, the man who could talk to the animals. The original series spanned several novels, of which The Story of Doctor Dolittle is the first. It’s a great adventure story, featuring memorable characters, exotic travel, a narrow escape from pirates, and of course, plenty of discourse with members of other species.
Written in 1920 and set a century earlier, The Story of Doctor Dolittle entered the public domain in the United States fifteen years ago, resulting in numerous versions and adaptations. Kiddo and I recently read a fully illustrated and adapted version, published by Creative Edge, that’s geared to readers age 8 and up. The simple sentence structure and engaging illustrations make this an ideal book to read aloud to younger children.
Lest you’re confused (like I was) about how Doctor Dolittle can talk to the animals, the novel explains how a parrot versed in human English taught Doctor Dolittle how to decipher the languages of animals and how he became fluent through taking copious notes and conversing with the animals. (Pretty good pointers for kids learning a second language!)
As a parent, I appreciated many aspects of this book, including Doctor Dolittle’s compassion for animals, his disregard for money and worldly possessions, and the engaging story that makes it so hard to put down. This is also the first chapter book that really captivated my kiddo. She explained that hearing it read aloud was like watching a movie.
While there is passing mention of eating fish, several themes in this book make it commendable to vegetarian and vegan families. For starters, Doctor Dolittle believes that exotic animals belong in their homelands, and so when he travels to Africa to treat a disease outbreak among the wildlife there, he brings a monkey, a parrot, and a crocodile native to that continent home again. Then, when the animals want to give him a gift to show him their gratitude, and they decide upon a rare two-headed animal called a pushmi-pullyu (“push-me/ pull-you”), he ensures that the animal actually wants to travel with him back to England before accepting. And the book also calls attention to circuses and zoos, explaining that the animals in Africa find that concept abhorrent. People concerned about animal rights should be aware that Doctor Dolittle himself tours small towns with the pushmi-pullyu to raise money after he returns to England — but still, he refuses to sell the animal, explaining that it’s important that he’s free to come and go, and is not confined to a cage.
While the original version of this novel contained some racially-charged passages, the adapted version does not.
This book is a great read for kids ages 8-12, or to be read aloud to younger children.