The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford

incredible journeySo, I confess it was a Reading Race day and I left my book at home.  What to read?  I always “set and example” by “modeling reading” when the class has Reading Race time which sounds very professional of me but is really just a way for me to squeeze and extra hour of reading time out of a busy day.

The first thing I saw on the classroom shelf was an old copy of The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford.  It looks short enough to take just an hour for me to read. Why not, after all these years, finally give it a go.

I was impressed from page one.

The journey took place in a part of Canada which lies in the northwester part of the great sprawling province of Ontario.  It is a vast area of deeply wooded wilderness–of endless chains of lonely lakes and rushing rivers. Thousands of miles of country roads, rough timber, overgrown tracks leading to abandoned mines, and unmapped trails snake across its length and breadth.

While this is clearly language meant for younger readers, it’s also pretty darn good language.

You probably know the story from one of the many Disney film versions.  Two dogs and a cat set out to find their owners.  They travel across hundreds of miles of wilderness before the finally succeed.  I’m going to go ahead a “spoil” the book by telling you that all three live.

While the language is wonderful, the story is what readers of all ages will find the most rewarding aspect of The Incredible Journey.  It really is good. The three “friends” face wild animals, friendly and not so friendly people as well as a raging river.  It’s plenty to keep the pages turning, a few passages are quite gripping.  One of my seventh graders is reading the book, which I found out after I asked 3rd period if anyone was reading something good.  She agrees with me, that the story is an exciting one.

But its also just about completely believable.  So if you’re hesitant to read it out of fear that the animals will talk to each other or to the reader or act in ways that are beyond what a dog or a cat would really do, fear not.  The animals all act like animals, which helps them sometimes and hurts them at other times.  I they had had enough sense to wait around until the end of the day at the start of the story, then they would have known that a neighbor was coming to  feed them and the whole journey could have been prevented, for example.

Late in the story a couple finds the two dogs who have been separated from the cat.

Nell passed her hand over the dog’s shoulder and felt the scars,, then examined them more closely.  She looked up suddenly puzzled.  “These aren’t from any dogfight,” she said. “They’re claw marks–like the ones bears leave on fresh wood, only smaller–”

In silence they looked down at the dog by their feet, digesting the implication,, the unknown story behind the sinister scars; and they saw now, for the first time, the gathering couldiness in the depth of the humorous little eyes; the too-thin neck shamed by the newly distended belly; and they saw that the indefatigable tail which thumped so happily on the floor was ragged and old, with a broken end.  This was no bold, aggressive adventurer–only a weary old dog, hungry not only for food but for affection.

The young Labrador, the aging bull terrier, and the Siamese cat all manage to work their way into the reader’s heart without speech, with only the slightest hint of personification, just by being two very good dogs and one very smart cat.

Along the way, the reader comes to know the Canadian wilderness, which I found to be a very nice little bonus.

I loved it and just may offer it up as extra credit for our current unit on The Call of the Wild.  I think I’ll get quite a few takers.

2 thoughts on “The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford

  1. I remember very well reading this book when I was about ten. I still have a copy on my shelf, and a few others by same author. They’re good!

  2. I wish it would come out in a new edition with a cover kids today would respond to. I thought it was a terrific little book. Many 10-year-olds would enjoy it, but they won’t pick it up with the cover my edition has.

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