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Dogs of War

ISBN: 978-0-545-12887-2
Review Date:

During a recent trip to the local library, my kids discovered the comic books section. While they went through the My Little Pony and Yotsuba&! volumes with wide eyes, my eyes were drawn to a particular title a few shelves higher titled Dogs of War by author Sheila Keenan and illustrator Nathan Fox. Written for the younger (10-15 range, perhaps), the author used fictional stories of three dog-handler teams to relay the horrors of war.

First was Boots, a dog belonging to Marcellinus McDonald. Marcellinus's mentor, a medical doctor, joined the British Army during WW1, and Marcellinus followed, serving as a medic. With Boots at his side, Marcellinus witnessed senseless violence and learned that the soldiers in the opposing trenches were really no different than he and his comrades. Then, during WW2, Loki was a sled dog at the US military airfield Bluie West Eight in southwestern Greenland. Loki had been viewed as a feisty and difficult-to-train dog, but when a new dog handler, Cooper, arrived, the pair excelled, eventually succeeding in a rescue operation that also saw the pair successfully handling the unexpected arrival of German scouts. Finally, there was the story of Sheba told through the memories of Lanford, a Vietnam War veteran who returned to the United States with post traumatic stress disorder. Lanford's interactions with neighborhood boy Henry and Henry's puppy Bouncer helped him take a step toward recovery. Though these three stories were set decades apart, the bond between dog and handler were unmistakeable, as was the degree in which their loyalty toward each contributed to each pair's survival. While individual bravery was abundant, the author also successfully warned the readers that for every tale of gallantry, there were far more stories of terrors, of violence, of nightmares. I felt that Lanford's story was especially poignant, for that most of us war history enthusiasts focused on the period of war, but often forget the emotional trauma that surviving soldiers would eventually bring home with them.

The illustrations by Nathan Fox were of a typical American style. Since the book was aimed at younger readers, the artist skillfully hid most of blood and gore behind smoke and blasts, with the exception of the death of Lanford's buddy in Vietnam, whose violent death was central to the telling of Lanford's story. As a lover of animals, I really enjoyed the life Fox was able to bring to each of the dogs in this book.

To be completely honest, when I initially picked up Dogs of War, I had expected little, especially considering that I had come across it in the children's section of the library. Pleasantly surprised at how engrossed I would eventually become, I now recommend WW2DB visitors with interest in comics to check out this title as well.

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