When Doctor Dolittle slowly stops tending to patients in order to spend more time with his pets, his life changes. First, he learns the language of his animal companions, allowing him to become the best veterinarian in the world. As word of his attentive and caring nature spreads, requests for help lead him on a series of grand adventures from England to Africa. This whimsical tale for upper elementary/middle grade readers was first published in 1920. One hundred years later, Melissa Dalton Martinez’s revised edition seeks to highlight the fantastical elements that first captured readers’ imaginations, while modifying the text to remove archaic and offensive portrayals of the book’s Black characters.
Martinez summarizes changes to the original text along with her intentions to make Doctor Dolittle a book that adults can once again feel comfortable sharing with children in a note preceding the story. Unlike a 1988 revision of Doctor Dolittle that removed all references to skin color but retained colonialist undertones and racial stereotypes, this 2020 edition instead removes offensive language and stereotypes while keeping characters’ races as part of their identities. The story itself still feels a bit outdated, with its extensive references to sixpence and snuffboxes, but several text and plot modifications ensure caregivers and teachers can responsibly introduce a new generation to a beloved classic. The king of Jolliginki—a fictional kingdom set in Africa—now has motivation for mistrusting Doctor Dolittle beyond the fact that the white Englishman looks and dresses differently from him: the last time he treated a white man with kindness, the stranger killed all the elephants and dug up the land looking for gold. These changes provide more accurate context around colonialist impacts such as the destruction of African lands and resources.
The book also features 32 new pencil illustrations by Tom Tolman, which effectively break up the text with charming visuals that portray the animal characters in various situations. Young readers will likely get a kick out of the sillier visuals, including a crocodile and a dog sunning themselves in lounge chairs. The black-and-white drawings also fit perfectly with the antique feel of the novel, with gorgeous shading that gives each illustration depth and supplements the story without distracting from the text. Overall, DOCTOR DOLITTLE is a charming fantasy adventure that was sorely in need of this type of refresh.
A refreshed text and detailed pencil illustrations bring new life to the rollicking adventures and resourceful talking animals of THE STORY OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE, a classic novel for intermediate readers.
~Cameron Gillespie for IndieReader