Sociable Toby was written in the mid-1950's by Eleanor Clymer and Illustrated by Ingrid Fetz. It describes the time when many little communities
were changing from large, frame multigenerational homes to smaller single generational homes. It was also a time when electricity was first available,
both for the new homes, with their electric refrigerators and heating systems, as well as the older homes, with their ice-boxes, kerosene lamps and
Such is the setting of Sociable Toby. Toby, a Kerry Blue Terrier is purchased by a woman living alone in one of those old, multigenerational homes. Her
family was all gone, and her former neighbors had all moved away, selling their old, large homes that had been razed so that the new, smaller homes
could be built. The neighborhood had changed from old friends to younger families with children, a neighborhood that now attracted many sales people
and other strangers. The protagonist of the story, Miss Emma Dusenberry decides she needs a guard dog given the fact that there were now so many strangers
in the neighborhood. She wanted a dog that was not too small and not too large, a dog that would not shed, a dog that would bark when strangers came
to the door, but that would not bite the small children.
Toby was living in a pet store when Miss Dusenberry found him. He had been very lonely in the pet store and had high hopes for adventure when Miss Dusenberry
took him home. Miss Duesnberry thought buying this dog would bring her peace and quiet from the sales people and neighborhood children, however, to
quote from the story, she "couldn't see the mischievous gleam in Toby's eyes behind the black fur. She didn't know what a sociable dog she had brought
home." These are the predictive words that end the first of three chapters.
The entire second chapter consists of Toby's various adventures getting out of the front yard hedge, the back yard fence, and, of course, the house itself
seeking friends. Toby quickly makes friends with the entire neighborhood, playing with all the children, and their parents, who eventually bring him
home to Miss Dusenberry. Although every neighbor who returns Toby admires something wonderful that they have seen in the old house that is filled with
wonderful items from the past, Miss Dusenberry politely thanks them, but does not invite her new neighbors in. She is determined to be alone. She decides
that Toby has been a mistake. Far from bringing her peace and quiet, and keeping people away, he has only brought the neighbors to her. She thinks
she must return him to the pet store.
The third chapter centers around a two day snow storm that causes the electricity to go out in the neighborhood. Miss Dusenberry is happy that she still
has her kerosene lamps and coal stove and old fashioned ice box that are not dependent on electricity. However, in going down the stairs to put coal
in the furnace, she sprains her ankle. Toby comes to the rescue and helps her get back upstairs. But the real rescue of this lonely older lady who
has lost her family and old friends, comes when she must let Toby outside on his own. She tells him that she hopes he will come back. Of course, being
a Kerry Blue Terrier, Toby has figured out that something is wrong and goes to a neighbor's home. In returning Toby, the neighbors discover that Miss
Dusenberry sprained her ankle. Miss Dusenberry invites this family, and then all of her neighbors, none of whom have electricity or heat, to spend
the evening in her home that of course, has heat, and light, and an icebox.
Everyone brings in food and they have an impromptu dinner party. Miss Dusenberry shares her best china for the dinner. She lets the children all ring the
dinner gong, and following dinner, she lets the children play with all the toys she had as a child. Miss Dusenberry learns to be just as sociable as
her dog Toby, who is of course delighted that his home is finally filled with friends, the way a home should be. The neighbors thank Miss Dusenberry
for her hospitality in the storm, but she says, ending the story "Don't thank meThank Toby. It's all his doing. It's because he's sociable."
I bought this book originally because it was about a Kerry Blue Terrier. I was buying every book about Kerry Blues I could find, although there weren't
that many to buy. I have considered it a great find, however, because the story never fails to bring tears to my eyes when I read it. Although written
for children, probably 3rd or 4th grade level, the story has a universal appeal for the story is about loneliness and the only true cure for loneliness-meeting
people. Miss Dusenberry is lonely and attempts to seal herself away from her neighbors as a disguise of her loneliness. Toby is lonely and cures his
loneliness by making friends the way that only a Kerry Blue can-with great enthusiasm, intelligence, and spirit. Toby thus teaches Miss Dusenberry
the meaning and value of having friends. As such, even in its simplicity, or perhaps because of its simplicity, it is a good read because it is an
Eleanor Clymer, the author, had over 100 children's books to her credit.
She was born in 1906 and began writing at age 6. Many of her books were about animals, with a series about cats. She won a number of awards for children's
stories. Although she did not apparently own a Kerry Blue Terrier, the illustrator, Ingrid Fetz, did own a Kerry Blue who was named Toby. Ms. Fetz's
Toby was not only the model for the illustrations in the book, he was also the model for dog in the story. The author dedicates the book, in part,
to Fetz's Toby. I can imagine Ms. Clymer working with Ms. Fetz, who illustrated a number of her stories, and noticing the character of Toby, and thinking
how this was an animal that deserved his own story book! Perhaps that was how Sociable Toby was born.
Sociable Toby was published in 1956 by E.M. Hale & Company, Eau Claire Wisconsin. It is 81 pages long and is beautifully illustrated in black and white
line drawings by Ms. Fetz. Although this book has been out of print for years, it is readily available on line through any of the out-of print book
services. Prices range from around $30 for ex-library copies in reasonably good shape to over $100 for very fine copies of the book. The book is occasionally
available on www.eBAY.com for under $30.