Michael Morpurgo (text), Emma Chichester Clark (illus.), Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz, HarperCollins, 284pp., $19.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9780008134600
“Well then, Toto,” said Dorothy, “up we get and off we go! Home is home, and home is best.”
“You’re so dog-gone right,” I woofed.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that no-one reading this review needs me to re-cap the basic storyline of The Wizard of Oz for them. As you might have guessed from the title, Toto is a re-telling of the classic story, from the point of view of the smallest character: Dorothy’s feisty little pet canine.
The book opens with the eponymous hero, now in his autumn years, telling the story of his life to his many puppies. In fact, the book is written as an account of Papa Toto’s tale, as remembered by his youngest son, Tiny Toto. The latter dog always loved to hear his father tell of the exciting adventures he and Dorothy had had in the faraway land of Oz, and always stayed awake right to the very end of the story, unlike his brothers and sisters.
Toto himself (whose voice sounded like Morgan Freeman in my head for some strange reason), chronicles the saga of the twister, the arrival in Oz and the journey to the Emerald City in his own words, telling it as though he were there again, and giving the events his own perspective.
I admit, rather bashfully, that I have never actually read the original book, and so there were several story elements that I was not familiar with (the back story of the Tin Woodsman, for instance, and one or two creatures and tribulations that the band encounters along the way).
Toto is an interesting spin on a classic tale, bringing a richness of sensory depth that may have previously gone unexplored. Naturally, to a dog, the way things smell and sound have greater impact, and so these aspects are brought out in Morpurgo’s detailed descriptions. These, in turn, are enhanced by Emma Chichester Clark’s bright and vivid illustrations which seem to leap off of the page, bursting with brightness and colour (I did momentarily wonder whether the pictures should have been in black and white, seeing as dogs are colour-blind… but I dismissed the notion).
It’s a fun story, cleverly told and with much humour and imagination. Kids of all ages will enjoy it – I plan on reading it to my six year-old, providing I can get my Morgan Freeman voice just right!
Reviewed by Christian Price