Everyone has stories to tell, we are surrounded by stories of all kinds and we pass on stories over time to others. Phil Earle’s story of a girl, a dog, football and family is one that is full of love and hope, dreams and determination. Another definite winner from the Barrington Stoke team. That it is inspired by true life experiences and situations gives this thoughtful book an added impact.
Elsie and her dog Pickles love football and their lives revolve around it. When Elsie’s team, and Pickles, get the opportunity to play in a half time match at the World Cup Final at Wembley they think that all their dreams have come true. However despite the joy that football brings to both Elsie and Pickles life at home for them is hard and made even more so when Elsie’s dad loses his job and they have to move into temporary accommodation. Things deteriorate even further and it looks as though all Elsie’s dreams will be shattered but her loyal friend, Pickles, is determined to do something to save the day.
My own love of football and dogs dates back to childhood and the lovely true story of Pickles the dog and the 1966 World Cup is one that has always made me smile. Phil Earle has used this true event as a catalyst for a book that illustrates how important football is for many people. One of the most appealing aspects for many is that feeling of being part of a team and Phil Earle has captured that spirit and enthusiasm well. Elsie reminded me of so many football mad children I have watched over the years. The importance of being part of a team is mirrored in Elsie’s family. Although only a team of three, Elsie, Dad and Pickles, the feeling of love and loyalty between them is conveyed beautifully. Dad is fulfilling the role of single parent in a situation that would be a struggle for anyone but he does so with such thoughtful kindness and care that Elsie is largely cushioned from the worst of the situation, at least at first.
The story is narrated by Pickles himself and this ensures that the difficulties the family experience through poverty and homelessness are conveyed in a manner that is both appropriate and understandable for young readers. There were many moments when I as an adult reader ached for the man hanging on to his dignity and role as provider for his child. The important and often quoted statement by Rudine Sims Bishop, about books acting as windows, sliding doors and mirrors is fitting for The Dog that Saved the World. Homelessness is something that affects an increasing number of people and unfortunately stories that deal with this aspect of modern life need to be available to children so that they can understand and empathise with others or gain comfort and support from seeing themselves portrayed in current fiction.
Despite the heartbreaking difficulties that Elsie’s family face the overriding theme of the book is a positive and inspirational one. A lovely example is when another family in the same situation reach out to welcome them and offer help and companionship. Phil Earle even manages to bring a little humour to events using Pickle’s perspective of the situation. The story ends with hope and optimism for the future and this is such an important aspect of the book. In the author’s note at the end of the story the reader learns that in addition to Pickles the dog who saved the day Phil Earle was also inspired by the life of footballer Fara Williams. Fara was not defeated by her own difficult circumstances but persevered with determination and Elsie’s attitude reflects that in this story.
The book is illustrated throughout by Elisa Paganelli and these pictures capture the bond between the girl and her dog well and also depict a family life that is full of love. As with all books published by Barrington Stoke this book is published in a dyslexia friendly font on cream paper to reduce glare.
The Dog Who Saved the World (Cup) was published on 4th March. I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for providing my review copy.
I think that another book published by Barrington Stoke, It’s A No-Money Day by Kate Milner, would be perfect to pair with this one to prompt discussion. Phil Earle and Barrington Stoke have created some excellent teaching resources to use with his book and they are freely available to download here.
You may also be interested in this article in The Big Issue: How Pickles the dog, an England footballer and homelessness inspired new book.
Finally, Phil Earle recorded this 20 minute video for Tales on Moon Lane @MoonLaneTV all about the influences behind the writing of THE DOG THAT SAVED THE WORLD (CUP) which would be wonderful to share with children.