The Shiloh Quartet Series / by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. 12.10.2015

Shiloh / by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. (The Shiloh Quartet, 1)

Atheneum Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780689316142

Shiloh Season / by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. (The Shiloh Quartet, 2)

Atheneum Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780689806476

Saving Shiloh / by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. (The Shiloh Quartet, 3)

Atheneum Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780689814600

A Shiloh Christmas / by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. (The Shiloh Quartet, 4)

Atheneum Books for Young Readers ISBN 9781481441513

INT (MS) Grades 4-7 Rating: 4

Eleven-year-old Marty Preston is roaming the land around his rural West Virginia home when a beagle follows him. Marty quickly concludes the dog has been mistreated. Marty and his dad return the beagle to their neighbor Judd, but soon the dog appears at their house again. When Marty decides he can’t return the dog a second time, he hides Shiloh in a makeshift pen in the woods. Then another dog attacks Shiloh in the pen, and Judd hears that his missing beagle is with the Prestons. As Marty struggles to decide what is right and wrong, he tries to think of a way to rescue Shiloh without stealing him.

As Shiloh Season opens, Marty has found a way to keep Shiloh. However, Judd has been drinking heavily and causing trouble. Through a series of incidents, the relationship between Judd and the Preston family grows tenser. Marty is afraid Judd will hurt Shiloh or even one of the Prestons. Then an accident happens that could change everything.

In Saving Shiloh, the neighbors that helped Judd after his accident have gone back to gossiping. Every time something goes wrong, rumors circulate about Judd’s responsibility for the problem. But Marty sees Judd treating his dogs better, acting friendlier, and plowing snow for the neighbors. While Marty doesn’t exactly like the man who mistreated Shiloh, he thinks the community is being unfair to Judd. Marty must decide what it means to give someone “a second chance.”

In A Shiloh Christmas (published 18 years after the third installment), a fire burns down several homes, including Judd’s trailer. At a time when the community ought to be pulling together to help one another, a new preacher seems to be dividing the community and terrorizing his own children. The preacher makes unflattering references to Judd, and Judd criticizes the church. The Prestons accidentally invite Judd and the preacher to Christmas dinner. This will be a Christmas to remember, but for what reasons?

These books discuss some heavy subjects, including alcoholism, child abuse, and animal abuse. While violent scenes aren’t overly graphic, they do contain some details. Particularly in the first book, Judd uses a handful of curses and euphemistic swear words. In the final book, we see Marty and his dad often choosing to stay home or work on Sundays while the mother and sisters go to church. Marty also questions God’s love, hell, and right and wrong. He doesn’t necessarily see the Bible as a way to answer those questions. As a result, adult guidance may be helpful to children reading this series.

Each of these books contains a dose of sobering reality. But each also contains a message of hope: Our acts of kindness matter. Kindness has a redeeming power. The Preston family doesn’t talk about loving their neighbors as themselves, but that’s what they learn to do. And by the end of the series, their neighborhood is better for it.

Rachelle Dawson, CLJ