The Story of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting

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The Story of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting (published 1920) is told with a “once upon a time” feel, with a humorous tale told casually about a doctor who can speak with the animals. What a fun concept, but what a shame this concept was written about in such an era. While the writing is far more interesting and superior to that of the (boring) 1922 Newbery Award winners, it unfortunately falls flat in many ways for today’s reader. (Note that The Story of Doctor Doolittle was not in consideration for the first Newbery Award, because it was published the year before the first Newbery was awarded.)

The painful racism permeating throughout this story extends not just to casual mentions but an entire sub-plot in which Doctor Doolittle convinces an African “black prince” to use a politice to change his skin to white. And that was not all of the icky-ness in this novel. I so wish such an amusing concept (a doctor that can talk with animals!) would have been originally created today (of course, with a better plot that doesn’t revolve around a trip to Africa). I have not seen the movies: I know they are “updated.” Are they worth watching?

The book had a “storytime” feel similar to that within My Father’s Dragon, which I’d highly recommend instead of this one. Of course, I must reread My Father’s Dragon through my current lens to know for sure how appropriate it is today. In the meantime, avoid reading The Story of Doctor Doolittle. It’s not worth the time it takes to read.

Reviewed on November 21, 2023

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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