Cover image for Sophia, the alchemist's dog
Sophia, the alchemist's dog
Jackson, Shelley.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, [2002]

Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 26 cm
The royal alchemist's dog Sophia is able to discover for herself the secret of making gold, but when the king comes to visit he finds treasure of a different kind.
General Note:
"A Richard Jackson book."
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 4.6 0.5 64970.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



The king's alchemist has only two weeks -- and then his royal master is coming to the laboratory, expecting to see that the poor man has turned lead into gold. The king loves gold.Sophia, the alchemist's dog, loves her master, the man who, day and night, despondently ponders and dreams and draws and doodles panicky thoughts about gold on piles and piles of paper.He is tormenting himself for he can learn nothing, from anywhere, about the magic expected of him. And he is neglecting his friend Sophia who misses her fine walks and misses the man's loving company.So it is that Sophia, for reasons any dog will understand, sets up a laboratory of her own under the table while her master woofs and paws the pillow nearby in his unhappy sleep. What Sophia discovers about alchemy is unforeseen, a miracle that amazes us to this very day.

Author Notes

Shelley Jackson studied at Brown University and now lives in New York City.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 1-3. In this splendidly spun fairy tale, the king's alchemist is in big trouble, and his doting dachshund Sophia is worried. Although her talented master is capable of producing many interesting things in his workshop--bad smells, for example--he simply cannot make gold from lead. When the king decides to pay the alchemist a visit, both dog and man panic. Feverish dreams haunt the would-be alchemist, who each morning sketches and paints his tormented visions and tries to analyze the «handwriting of the universe» in search of recipes for gold. Alas, he does not discover the precious formula in time for the royal visitation. But the king is delighted with the alchemist's visionary artwork, and he dubs the artist «painter of the king.» Sophia does not have to reveal the gold she has made as a backup. Jackson's artwork shines in this eye-catching picture book that features a delightfully original blend of expressive acrylic paintings, pen-and-ink drawings, and Leonardo da Vinci-style sketches and scribbles. Text and art: lively and lovely. Karin Snelson.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Sophia's artistic master is good at some things he draws intriguing interpretations of his dreams, for instance, and he can "stir two bad smells together and make a third completely different smell" but as the king's alchemist, he's a flop. And with the king's visit pending, the poor fellow has been neglecting his pet as he tries desperately to find the formula to turn lead into gold. Sophia, who is as smart as she is loyal, eventually takes matters into her own paws and sets up a laboratory of her own under the table. Her efforts are successful, but the real surprise in this tale is what the king spots as treasure; suffice it to say that the alchemist's job is changed to "painter to the king." Jackson's (The Old Woman and the Wave) tale is somewhat scattered. For example, subplots featuring an imp and an angel may be inspired by late-medieval work but feel tangential. On the other hand, the writing is descriptive ("a finger-joint of candle"). The busy spreads incorporate acrylic paintings, rendered in a palette of terra-cottas and ochers spiked with blues and greens, sepia-like vignettes, and atmospheric, detailed sketches "by" the alchemist. As in the text, there's often too much to take in. Ages 5-8. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4 Up-In Jackson's unnamed medieval kingdom, the royal alchemist struggles to turn lead into gold. His futile efforts distract him from practically everything else, including his loyal dog, Sophia. Feeling neglected, the canine takes up the task herself and inexplicably succeeds in producing a shiny golden lump. She tucks it away in anticipation of just the right moment to present it to her master, after which she expects his priorities to return to normal. But as luck would have it, the king forgets all about gold when he notices his alchemist's unsung talents as an artist. Sophia's master becomes the royal painter, the dog nudges the gold down a mouse hole, and the formula for gold remains undiscovered. Thus, the point seems to be that there's no reason to go nuts turning lead into gold even if it's possible to do so. Unfortunately, the theme is couched in a verbose (albeit cunningly constructed) narrative that may be initially off-putting or too sophisticated for a young audience. Jackson pays exhaustive attention to the alchemist's troubled sleep, for instance, when many children would probably prefer a little more assistance in understanding the angel and imp duo that alternately vexes and aids Sophia. The author's charming illustrations combine the alchemist's notes, drawings, paintings, sketches, and doodles with images from Sophia's point of view. All work together to lend considerable visual appeal and help the narrative along by fleshing out the story's subtler details. Still, one must question the intended audience.-Catherine Threadgill, Charleston County Public Library, SC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.