I'm sure I read this back in about 5th grade, which was pretty much back in the dark ages. I loved Doctor Doolittle before he got swallowed up by Hollywood. In the past couple of years, I've reread the first two of the Doctor Doolittle books. They were charming stories, albeit rather racist. Whatever, I decided to read the next one on the list despite the racism.
There's a lot to like about this book. On the other hand, it does meander and seems to lack focus. I'm not sure Lofting knew where he was going, so he just made stuff up and ended up with lots of interesting vignettes, but not a coherent whole.
Doctor Doolittle and friends are headed back to England after having visited Africa. They come upon a woman weeping in a canoe and stop to help. It seems her husband was sold into slavery, so the Doctor goes off to help capture the slave traders, something he does with the help of a British Man o' War he bumps into by accident, and also some swallow friends, who act as scouts. When they get the woman and her husband reunited, Doctor Doolittle and friends take her home. When they get there, they learn that the woman had written the king asking him not
to sell her husband, but the king never got the letter, because the post office in his country wasn't properly organized. So Doctor Doolittle sets up a well-organized and reliable post office that uses migrating birds to carry the mails. Well, at one point and another, the good doctor also sets up a weather bureau, helps an impoverished kingdom gain riches by way of a pearl fishery, protects the same impoverished kingdom from the depredations of rampaging amazons (I'm not sure how it is that Amazons, i.e. big, strong, active women—kind of like the Williams sisters—are to be found in Africa, despite the fact that "The Amazon" is in South America), visits an ancient turtle who personally witnessed the Flood in the Noah and the Ark story (never mind that that
flood took place in the Middle East, not Africa), and so forth. It's just one thing sort of leading to another without plan (kind of like my sentence structure).
So, anyway, this is a quite good read. It's probably a better read for 10-year olds who aren't so picky about having things make sense. On the other hand, there are little bits of wry humor in some of the events and asides that aren't likely to be properly understood except by more mature readers (e.g. a quip about "pearls before swine").