Before it was the 1961 Walt Disney animated film One Hundred And One Dalmatians it was a children's story by Dodie Smith. I never knew this until I stumbled upon a copy of the book at my local library book sale.
For the most part the plot remains the same between the novel One Hundred And One Dalmatians (a.k.a The Hundred And One Dalmatians) published in 1956 and the animated film, though there are several discrepancies between the two when it comes to details. (More on that later.)
For those unfamiliar with the story, One Hundred and One Dalmatians is the story of two dalmatians, Pongo and Misses Pongo (a.k.a. Misses) who live with their "pets", Mr. and Mrs. Dearly and the Dearly's former Nannies, Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler. Not long after the Dearlys and the Pongos both get married Misses gives birth to a litter of 15 puppies. Also around this same time the entire household encounters a former classmate of Mrs. Dearly, Cruella deVil and her husband, Mr. deVil. The deVils are in the fur trade -- Mr. deVil makes fur clothing and Cruella wears it. And it is immediately obvious that the only animals Cruella likes come in the form of a fur coat or stole.
The story takes a sinister turn when the puppies mysteriously disappear after a visit from Cruella. Through the "twilight barking" (a form of communication amongst the dogs of England) Pongo learns the puppies have been dog-napped by henchmen hired by Cruella and they will be made into fur coats.
With the aide of various dogs and cats across the English countryside, Pongo and Misses set out to rescue their puppies only to discover they must save not only their 15, but another 82 puppies of varying sizes.
The rest of the story follows very much the same story plot that the 1961 animated film does, with a few minor variations. The most obvious changes from the book to the film were the details of who made up the 101 dalmatians. In the movie it is Pongo and Perdita and 99 puppies, but in the book the adults are Pongo and Misses (as referred above) with two additional adult dongs, Prince and Perdita, and then the 82 puppies. Another interesting variation from the book to the film has to do with the Dearlys. In the film they are named Radcliffe and Mr. Radcliffe is a musician, but in the book Mr. Dearly is a financial wizard who makes a fortune solving the English government's financial problems.
Overall The Hundred And One Dalmatians is charming and fun and imaginative read. The villains are villainous, but the good guys win and all is put right with a proper happily-ever-after ending. I really enjoyed the story and plan to read it to my daughter when she's older. I would definitely recommend this to readers, both young and old.
At 199 pages it makes for a great read aloud to children, but could be read easily enough by older children on their own. I found the book a relatively fast read that had short chapters and a clear writing style. The only objectionable material would be in the villainous behavior of Cruella, but Ms. Smith makes a point of depicting Cruella in a very devilish way so any objectionable behavior should be able to be excused by the reader as par to Cruella's wickedness.
On a scale of one to five, one being horrible and five being excellent, I would rate One Hundred And One Dalmatians a 4 or 4.5. I really liked this book. I found it a refreshing change from another work I read by Ms. Smith earlier last year.
Readers should be able to find a copy at their local library to borrow, but I think this is one book that readers should consider adding to their personal library, it's that good a read.
As a side note for those who have read One Hundred And One Dalmatians, Dodie Smith wrote a sequel, The Starlight Barking, but from what I can tell it is much more fantastical of a story and not quite up to par with the original.