Heartache, Fights, and Love: A Dog’s Life: The Dog Who Dared to Dream by Sun-mi Hwang

  • onOctober 14, 2016
  • Vol.33 Autumn 2016
  • byB.J. Epstein
The Dog Who Dared to Dream
Tr. Chi-Young Kim

Scraggly is fierce, independent, and brave, not afraid to stand up for what she believes, and completely devoted to those she loves. She has dealt with loss, betrayal, disappointment, and heartache, but she hasn’t given up.

Scraggly is the hero of The Dog Who Dared to Dream by bestselling Korean author Sun-mi Hwang, translated to English by Chi-Young Kim. And yes, Scraggly is indeed a dog. While a dog as the main character wouldn’t be unusual in children’s books, seeing the world from an animal’s perspective is much less common in crossover literature. And that’s part of what makes Hwang’s book such fun to read; the novel is a parable that can be read and enjoyed by audiences of any age, and readers can relate to Scraggly’s experiences and struggles.

Scraggly is a blue-black Sapsaree, a particular kind of Korean dog with shaggy hair. From her earliest days, it’s clear that Scraggly is different from the other dogs in her litter. Grandpa Screecher is a dog breeder and though he’s a bit gruff and not always kind, Scraggly is his favorite. Much of the book traces the story of their relationship, depicting connections between people and animals, even in a situation where the people are using the animals for profit. Scraggly and her fellow dogs understand the humans, but cannot always make themselves understood, which leads to frustration and bitterness at times. 

There are many tragedies in Scraggly’s life. She witnesses the dognapping of her mother and siblings, and she can’t explain to Grandpa Screecher who took them even though she tries to show him. She sees her own puppies snatched from her and sold off. She experiences Grandpa’s decline, as well as her own. There is a lot of grief in the book.

But it isn’t all bad for Scraggly. She is repeatedly told what her place should be—as a dog in human society, and as a female in dog society—and she repeatedly refuses to listen. She fights and she stands proud and she is completely herself. She’s admired for her tenacity, which seems to puzzle her; at one point she thinks, “Just because she was a female didn’t mean she should stand by meekly and get beaten up.” Readers will admire her belief in herself.

Scraggly also finds first love, and has the joy of mothering for a while. Later in life, she’s even given the opportunity to see one of her puppies all grown up; although they don’t have a reunion like she would have wanted, she is satisfied to see that her little one has survived and even thrived. And Scraggly makes tentative friends with a cat, who should be her enemy. So as for most of us, Scraggly’s life has its ups-and-downs, and the careful personification means that we can empathize with her. 

As the title notes, Scraggly dares to dream. She dreams of protecting her family and getting to be a mother to her puppies. She dreams of having more control over her life. She dreams of being understood by her humans. Unfortunately, she doesn’t often get what she hopes for, and that is a valuable and realistic lesson for readers. But reading about her strength, especially in the face of much adversity, is inspiring and heartwarming. 



by B.J. Epstein
Senior Lecturer, University of East Anglia