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Book Review

The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the part of the “Dr. Dolittle” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

It is 1839 in Puddleby, England. Tommy Stubbins, almost 10 years old, finds an injured squirrel. A friend tells him the renowned naturalist Dr. Dolittle can help. Tommy discovers the doctor is away on an exploratory voyage. He frequently wanders past the doctor’s house, awaiting his return. One stormy night, Tommy and the doctor run into each other. Both fall on the ground, soaked. The doctor takes Tommy home with him, and the boy sees the numerous animals the doctor keeps on his expansive property. Tommy is even more intrigued to learn Dr. Dolittle can talk to most of them.

Since Tommy’s parents can’t afford to send him to school, Tommy begins spending the daytime hours with Dr. Dolittle. He meets Polynesia, an old African parrot who helps him learn animal languages. Chee-Chee the monkey arrives and explains how he disguised himself as a woman to sail from Africa because he missed the doctor.

Tommy learns how to assist with the numerous other animals that live, by choice, in Dr. Dolittle’s personal zoo. One day, Tommy asks the doctor if he can be a proper assistant and work for room and board. He also wants to travel on the doctor’s exploratory voyages. The doctor talks to his parents, who agree to let Tommy move to the doctor’s house.

Dr. Dolittle has Tommy choose the location of their next trip by putting his finger on a map with eyes closed. Tommy’s finger lands on Spidermonkey Island, a place the doctor has long hoped to visit. It is home to a respected Indian naturalist named Long Arrow, whom animals have mentioned to the doctor. Polynesia tells the doctor his friend Bumpo, an African prince, is now studying in England. Bumpo arrives and wants to join the voyage. They consider inviting Luke the Hermit to accompany them, until they learn Luke has just been sent to prison for murder.

Dr. Dolittle talks to Luke’s dog, Bob, to find out what happened. Bob says he witnessed the murder, which took place some time ago in Mexico. Dr. Dolittle goes to Luke’s trial and translates the dog’s testimony into English for the jury. While people are amused or annoyed by this strange breach of protocol at first, they come to believe in Dr. Dolittle’s abilities. Luke is exonerated.

Not far into the voyage, Dr. Dolittle realizes several people have stowed away on the boat. He makes a few stops to drop off the extra passengers. One of the stowaways has eaten much of their food supply, and money is tight. They stop in Spain on an island famous for bullfighting. Dr. Dolittle abhors the practice. He makes a bet that he can beat the bullfighters at their own game. If he does, they have to stop the practice of bullfighting on their island. Bumpo makes a side bet they hope will earn them some money to fund their trip. The doctor talks to the bulls and explains what he wants them to do. They happily comply, and he amazes audiences by subduing many bulls at once. The voyagers win the bet and set sail again with money and supplies.

The ship is wrecked, and Tommy wakes up alone on a piece of it. Birds and sea animals reunite him with the others, who are floating on a larger piece of the ship. They help the group find their way to Spidermonkey Island. There, a beetle tells them Long Arrow and some of his tribe, called the Popsipetels, are stuck inside a mountain. Dr. Dolittle and his crew save them.

When the doctor learns the once-tropical floating island is getting colder, he enlists the help of porpoises to push it to a warmer climate with their noses. The Popsipetals’ enemy tribe, the Bag-jagderags, try to start a war. Dr. Dolittle and an army of birds thwart them. The Bag-jagderags are so smitten with Dr. Dolittle and his talents that they agree to live peacefully with the Popsipetals, if Dr. Dolittle will be king of the island. The doctor is reluctant, knowing kingly duties would keep him from traveling and studying nature. He agrees to stay for a while, and he makes many modern improvements to the primitive society.

Throughout the story, Dr. Dolittle has been trying to communicate with shellfish. He believes knowing their language is the key to learning about the history of the sea and its creatures. When a Great Glass Sea Snail appears near the island, he is able to communicate with the monstrous creature through several other animals.

Polynesia, Tommy and the others are ready to leave the island, partly because they’re concerned for the doctor. Due to his government duties, he no longer has a free moment to be a naturalist. They decide they will intervene and rescue him, knowing the tribes would rebel if he told them he was leaving. The travelers get the Great Glass Sea Snail to carry them back to England. They see and study fascinating things in the ocean from inside its shell.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Dr. Dolittle’s impressive abilities and knowledge base cause the awe-struck Indian tribes to deify him. They refer to him with titles like Lord, King of Kings and Almighty One.

Authority Roles

Dr. Dolittle treats Tommy, his animal friends and everyone he meets with respect and kindness. The doctor succeeds at everything he endeavors. Tommy’s parents are sad to see him sail away with the doctor, but they recognize it is a good opportunity for him.


The Lord’s name is used in vain a number of times. While Dr. Dolittle befriends and respects people of different races, the book includes some language about Indians and black people that would be considered racially insensitive in the 21st century. The n-word is used.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Racism/Prejude: Dr. Dolittle’s monkey gets the idea to disguise himself as human and stow away on a ship after seeing a (presumably black) girl whom he thinks looks like a monkey he knew.

A movie titled The Voyage of Dr. Dolittle starring Robert Downey Jr. is scheduled to release in 2020.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 and up


Hugh Lofting






Record Label



Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing; this edition was published in 2012


On Video

Year Published



Newbery Medal, 1923


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