A book report by Beth Woodmansee, for The Friends of the Richland Library
In 1956, a new book, The Dog Who Spoke to Santa Claus, by Katherine R. Forbes, with drawings by Joan Rayson, was published. Mrs. Forbes relates how Calhoun gives a speech, helping a boy have a merry Christmas.
Calhoun, a hound from the Deep South, lives in an apartment house in New York City with his master, Mr. Peters. A lobby sign, “No Barking Dogs Allowed on the Premises,” started it all. Calhoun doesn’t bark; he bays—a clear, clarion sound. When Calhoun bays, the little dogs upstairs start barking, the neighbors complain, and the janitor bangs on Mr. Peter’s door warning him to keep Calhoun quiet. One day, Mr. Peters told Calhoun if he bayed once more, the Animal Rescue League would take Calhoun away!
So, Calhoun learned to talk like a man. He tried out his new skill on Mrs. Frampton, saying, “Merry Christmas, Ma’am,” in his best southern drawl. She clutched herself, screamed, and slammed the door.
Humans reacted like this every time. On Christmas Eve, Calhoun went outside to find a child who might not react in fear. Three children, a little boy in a thin jacket and two girls, were across the street.
Calhoun ambled over and heard the girls taunting the boy—telling him Santa wouldn’t visit him. They pushed him down in the snow.
“Stop this minute!” Calhoun said in a deep voice. The girls saw the dog; but, no man; so, they ran away. Calhoun pulled the boy out of the snow; he said he was Joey Bough, then started crying. His mother recently moved the family; she’d been so busy with the new baby, she forgot to send their new address to Santa Claus. Joey wants “a shiny new sled.” His little brother, four-year-old Bill, wants a cowboy suit and two guns; and his twin sisters, Cherry and Berry, younger than Bill, want dolls. Now, though, Christmas wouldn’t come.
Calhoun told Joey that a “bay” is a sound he makes when he sits on his haunches and looks up at the moon. Calhoun made the bay sound by starting out low, then rose to a high note: “c-a-L-HOUUN!” People stopped and stared at the dog; the policeman directing traffic turned his head to see, causing a traffic jam.
Joey and Calhoun fled into the alley. They found Angela, a tree-top angel with a broken wing, blowing a gold trumpet. Minutes later, a scrawny cat called “Curtainface” arrived, followed by a pigeon who flew into the alley. They discussed how to help the children have Christmas.
Calhoun said he could tell Santa Joey’s new address and what everyone wanted. Pigeon knew where Santa always landed before flying into the city and could lead Calhoun there. Joey went home, and Pigeon led Calhoun to the dump then flew to her own family.
As he sat there alone, he lifted his head, pointed his nose at the moon, and let out a glorious bay, ending it on the highest note any dog can reach. Up in the sky, Santa and his reindeer heard him and landed the sleigh nearby.
Santa liked Calhoun’s baying and listened to the dog’s speech. Time was passing. Santa shouted, “Merry Christmas!” and lifted off. On his way home, Calhoun stopped at Joey’s tenement; looking through a window, he saw all was well. Finally, a tired, happy Calhoun got home, curled up on his chair by the fire, and went to sleep. Christmas morning, he found the hard dog candies that Santa had left for him. Merry Christmas to you all!