Critical Context

A prolific and versatile writer, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has written more than seventy books, both fiction and nonfiction, for children, young adults, and adults. Her list of awards is outstanding, and her titles are consistently listed on American Library Association Notable Book Lists. Shiloh is a Newbery Medal winner.

Many of Naylor’s works have an autobiographical basis, such as To Make a Wee Moon (1969), Revelations (1979), A String of Chances (1982), Unexpected Pleasures (1986), Beetles, Lightly Toasted (1987), and Maudie in the Middle (1988), the last one written with Lura S. Reynolds. Shiloh is based on an experience that Naylor had when visiting friends in West Virginia. While on a walk with her husband in the community of Shiloh, they found a hungry, frightened dog that followed them to their friend’s house. She could not get the dog out of her mind, even though her friends explained that abandoned dogs were a common occurrence in those hills. As she stated in her Newbery acceptance speech, “I wanted to write about how, once you become emotionally involved in a problem, all bets are off. Your perspective changes.”

Some students may know Naylor best for her Alice series—including The Agony of Alice (1985), Alice in Rapture, Sort Of (1989), and Reluctantly Alice (1991)—which are humorous stories of a motherless preadolescent girl who faces the typical anxieties of growing up. Others may know her Witch series—including Witch’s Sister (1975), Witch Water (1977), and The Witch Herself (1978)—or her York trilogy—Shadows on the Wall (1980), Faces in the Water (1981), and Footprints at the Window (1981)—novels in which teenager Dan Roberts travels back in time to fourth century England.

Naylor’s versatility, creation of believable characters and empathy for them, and ability to delve into contemporary problem areas for adolescents are hallmarks of her writing, which appeals to a wide variety of readers, both young and old.