Dogs of War (Scholastic)

Dogs are not only man’s best friend, they’re also a soldier’s best brother-in-arms in this trio of man-and-his-dog war stories from Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox.

 

 

206 pgs., color; $12.99
(W: Sheila Keenan; A: Nathan Fox)
 
Dogs have been used in warfare since at least the days of Ancient Rome, and remain a vital aspect of military operations today. Dogs of War, written by Sheila Keenan and illustrated by Nathan Fox, presents three stories about the brotherhood-in-arms of man and canine, set during World War I, World War II, and Vietnam. Although meant for readers ages 8 through 12, they’re also enjoyable for adults if you can set aside your stock of worldly wisdom and experience them as a child who hasn’t already heard similar stories many times already.
The most effective story involves two canine-human pairs: Henry and Bouncer, who live in a trailer park in South Carolina, and Lanford and Sheba, who served on a scout dog patrol in Vietnam. Lanford, who recently moved to the same trailer park as Henry, is haunted by his war experiences, but gradually reintegrates himself to the world by teaching Henry how to train Bouncer. In the process, he opens up about his wartime experiences and, in particular, his disappointment that Sheba was considered by the War Department to be just another piece of equipment to be assigned to someone else after Lanford returned home.
 
The novel setting of Greenland is the strong point for the World War II story, which takes place on and around the Sondrestrom Air Base. Cooper is assigned to care for the dogs, including one, Loki, who has a reputation for making trouble just like his namesake. Of course, Cooper and Loki bond immediately and soon find themselves tested by extreme weather conditions while on patrol.
 
The World War I story involves a Scottish orphan, Marcellinus McDonald, and his collie Boots, who serves as a mercy dog locating wounded soldiers in no-man’s-land so that they can be brought back to the relative safety of the trenches. Although this story deserve kudos for unflinching depiction of conditions in the trenches, complete with “trench rabbits” (rats) and the constant damp, it’s the least original of the three, invoking the well-known story of the Christmas Truce which seems to be more or less required for any story set on the Western Front.
 
Keenan’s stories are firmly in the tradition of war comics, with straightforward narratives emphasizing the brotherhood of soldiers and concluding on a positive note. Fox’s art lifts this volume out of the commonplace, however, with expert depiction of the different locations (particularly in the Greenland episode) and realistic portrayals of the human and canine characters. Extras include an essay on the use of dogs in war and a bibliography of books, DVDs and websites. | Sarah Boslaugh

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