Review Blog

Mar 22 2016

A soldier, a dog and a boy by Libby Hathorn

cover image

Ill. by Phil Lesnie. Lothian Children's Books, 2016. ISBN 9780734416377
(Age: 7+) Recommended. Animals in war. Children in war. War. Dogs. Refugees. Fighting at the Somme in Northern France during World War One, a young Australian soldier spies a stray dog, and adopts it, promising it will eat grandly: bully beef bourguignon. He tries to do some tricks with the animal, but the sad-face dog does not understand him. They walk on together, the young man wanting to adopt him as his company's mascot. In the background the luminous illustrations reveal aspects of the war in which the young man and his fellow Anzacs are involved. Eventually a young boy approaches them and he tells the soldier that the dog is his. He is able to get the dog to do the tricks the soldier tried, but when the soldier suggests the boy go to an orphanage he realises that he must sleep rough, the dog by his side, as the orphanage will not allow a dog.
The soldier asks the boy if he can have the dog, but the boy refuses. The soldier then gives the boy money for the two of them and bids them farewell. As we see the soldier moving off through the field of red poppies, the boy chases after him, exhorting him to take the dog back to Australia. So the soldier walks off with the dog wrapped around his shoulders. But this is not the end. The end of the story will make readers think hard about what happened to the other children like this one, what happened to the animals involved in war, as well as the story of a young boy smuggled back to Australia, which actually happened.
Hathorn's research into her own family's history at Gallipoli gave rise to this story, and the illustrations by Lesnie give an incredible back drop to the tale. Readers will gain some insight into the effect of war on the landscape, as well as the populace and feel some of the privations felt by the soldiers through the illustrations. The names given to the dogs by the two will engage the attention of the reader, and they will be able to think about some of the words associated with World War One.
This is an interesting and thought-provoking addition to the collection of picture books about Australia's participation in war which have appeared in the last few years and will be a wonderful inclusion for any library, classroom or home.
Fran Knight

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