Publisher Spotlight Review: The Adventures of Shola

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Small dog. Big dreams.

From her rustic, mouse-mad cousin Angeliño to Señor Grogó’s rodeo-chasing, wild Aunt Clementine from Wyoming, nobody in these four surprising stories can help agreeing with Shola in the end: leads are for losers and it’s far better to be free. Shola is a dog who knows what’s what and how best to say it, and she’ll even say it live on tv. – [X]

The Adventures of Shola, written by Bernardo Atxaga, illustrated by Mikel Valverde, and translated by Margaret Jull Costa, is a collection of four short stories about Shola the dog and her owner Señor Grogó. I can not say that I enjoyed this one as much I did Pushkin Press’ other review copy, but Shola is not without merit.

Shola is a dog unlike the others I’ve read. She is proud and adventurous (albeit for the wrong reasons) and is rather predisposed to lying. In the first story she is won over by a description she overhears about lions and comes to the conclusion that since she too is a fierce creature who is “strong, powerful, and noble”, she must be a lion. She spends the rest of the story trying to be a lion- dying her hair yellow, taking long naps, and hunting for prey … only to realize that she really is a small, white dog and that she is quite alright with who she is. (It’s the hunting that puts her off the whole lion deal.) It is a short, sweet, and entertaining story (with large print for younger readers) accompanied by rather charming watercolour (I think) illustrations.

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However, once you’ve read that first story, you can kind of anticipate what the rest of the stories are going to be like. Shola tries to be adventurous, to prove her worth in a way that simply isn’t her, and by the end of the story comes to rest on Señor Grogó’s large, comfortable armchair. Now, I can see how this could be very appealing for children. The Adventures of Shola kind of reminds me of Enid Blyton’s short stories- typically low-risk, no dramatic twists, and just sweet and happy. Kind of the opposite of a fairytale, I would say, and neither are as as classic as fairytales in my opinion.

Also, similar to Enid Blyton, the Shola stories- given that they are not as recent or contemporary as the books I usually review- are rather lacking in diversity and employ a sort of post-colonial (bordering on colonial) storyline and language. There are instances of cultural difference but it is largely between the culture of white people in one country/province versus the white people from another country/province. The only real mention of cultural difference rooted in race is through a minor character who opens his discourse on lions with a haphazard list of what one sees in Africa- country names (without mentioning they are countries), tribe names (without mentioning they are tribes), and the peculiar name of a tribe chief (obviously meant to evoke humour). Oh, and don’t forget the jungle. Just one. Singular. That’s where all the lions live. But, I suppose this is a short story collection meant for much younger audiences. And the information is all coming to us from the eyes of a none-too-bright dog, so obviously a geography lesson is out of the question. *sigh* It is possible that I have been over-analyzing this book. (It is also possible, however, that kids may do the same.)

I am not sure if a) I would have picked this up as a kid and b) if a kid today might pick this up given that there are so many other light/fluffy options to peruse, but as I said this book is not without merit. I suppose I can recommend it for someone wants a light, fluffy read with truly lovely illustrations and some wonderful wordplay-derived humour that comes through despite this being a translated text.