The Captain’s Dog: My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Tribe
This is a tale of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-06 as told by Captain Lewis’s Newfoundland dog, Seaman, who accompanied the explorers. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from Lewis’s diary, followed by Seaman’s recollections of that part of the journey. He tells of Indian encounters, squabbling amongst the men, and the hardships of the trail. The lack of food, bad weather, dangerous wildlife, and bothersome insects require a heroic level of stamina from dog and humans alike. What happened to the real-life Seaman after Lewis’s last mention of him in his journal is a historical mystery, but Smith imagines a satisfying closure for the fictional dog.
The canine point of view will attract animal-loving young readers and ought to make them curious to learn more about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I enjoyed the book, and it even sent me on a fact-checking mission afterwards. The short chapters will keep kids reading, and the period words such as “cache,” “pirogue,” and “gunwale” should entice them into expanding their vocabulary. A dog as narrator can cause problems, however. An active ability to suspend one’s disbelief is needed when the dog states: “I had seen him have minor bouts of melancholy along the trail…” or “Captain Lewis could not quite get his mind around what he had just heard.” Seaman must have been a smart dog to read Lewis’s mind. Still, the sweep and scope of the epic journey can’t be denied, no matter whose point of view the story is told from. A “reader chat page” at the end of this edition poses discussion questions which could be used in a classroom setting.