SCOTTISH COUNTRYSIDE ALLIANCE. AUTUMN 2005.
SHERRY – THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A SPRINGER SPANIEL
By Jean Cantlie Stewart
A review by Tony Andrews
Calling a children’s book ‘an autobiography’ is a brave move, and in Sherry’s case it works brilliantly. The four-legged narrator has no false modesty about her own good looks and intelligence, but is charmingly honest about her insecurity and the way she reacts to it. When she’s left all alone in a confined space, she destroys it. Well, what would you do, if you thought you were being abandoned forever, and you couldn’t talk but had sharp teeth?
Sherry continues to demonstrate Challenging Behaviour throughout her life, and the human carer she refers to as ‘Herself’ clearly deserves a medal. But we should be grateful that Herself didn’t give up on Sherry, because if she had, we would have missed the fun of meeting all these very entertaining characters. Sherry’s friends come in varying shapes and species, and it’s sometimes unclear how many of them are dogs and how many are humans or ponies or even cats, but we learn to recognise them by their names. We also learn a lot about the practicalities of living and working in the countryside, and about the traumas of travelling by means other than one’s own four legs.
There’s a lot of interesting information in this book about the co-operation of humans and animals in countryside activities. This is where the ‘autobiography’ is so apt: the story is realistic and honest, not fictional or sugary. When Sherry’s friends the ponies are ill, she tells us about it in graphic detail. When her terrier friends go missing down rabbit burrows, she’s realistic about their chances of getting back out. She sympathises with Herself (human) over infestations by carpet moths and the floods in Banffshire, but she feels even more keenly for herself (Sherry) when confronted with boarding kennels.
Sherry herself is definitely a character, and so are her close friends. At the risk of sounding racist, she confirms one’s suspicions about New Forest and Shetland ponies, Springer spaniels Labradors and Dobermans. She offers many insights into the relationship between dogs and humans: she tells us that puppies have small vocabularies, and we sympathise with their difficulty in understanding what grown-up humans want. Although Sherry’s own vocabulary develops as she gets older, she doesn’t need to learn ‘Neurotic’ or ‘Separation Anxiety’. She teaches those terms to her readers by the way she behaves, and she also teaches us a lot about what we can reasonably expect from an intelligent dog.
This reviewer particularly enjoyed Sherry’s approach to queuing in the post office, and understood completely why she was reluctant to go back there.
The story is charming and informative, the illustrations are delightful, and the blurb says this book is for readers aged 9 to 11. You don’t have to be.
Journal image © Scottish Countryside Alliance. All rights reserved. With thanks to Scottish Countryside Alliance (www.scottishcountrysidealliance.org/scot/).