“My Father’s Words” by Patricia MacLachlan is a beautifully written, emotionally wrenching story that had me crying through my lunch as I finished it. It’s a small, 133-page book set in large type with wide spacing. It’s easy to read, but much harder to really appreciate.
This is not a book that one should skim to just get the plot and then move on. MacLachlan includes phrases so thoughtful that the reader is compelled to reread them and think about them. It’s a perfect book for a classroom teacher to use as a read aloud, so that those special paragraphs and moments can be shared and discussed. But be warned, finishing this book without shedding a tear is an almost insurmountable feat.
The story, on its face, is simple. Fiona and Finn’s father, a psychologist and a wonderful dad, dies in a car accident. He swerves to avoid a child who has run into the street and is himself killed. The whole family is bereft.
At the suggestion of Luke, a close friend and neighbor, Fiona and Finn begin to volunteer at the local animal shelter, where they learn that while you comfort a shelter dog (or any dog, for that matter), the dog is also comforting you.
The ending of the book is perfect — so perfect that even if a reader sees the ending coming, it doesn’t matter. It’s beautifully written and extremely touching.
While it’s a simple story that third grade students could read and comprehend, older students will find it easier to understand the underlying truths that MacLachlan shares about life, death, memories, love, healing, and, of course, dogs. MacLachlan knows what most dog lovers know — that to have a dog companion is to never feel alone. Another truth my students know? To pet a dog is magic — it comforts and heals wounds and makes the sun shine on the darkest rainy day.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s edition provided by Katherine Tegen Books, the publisher, for review purposes.