(C) Ages 8-10, (D) Ages 10-12, Book Reviews, Boys, Historical Fiction, Middle Grades
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The Dogs of History

dukeDuke, by Kirby Larson.  Scholastic, 2013, 229 pages. 

Reading Level: Middle Grades, 8-10

Recommended for: ages 8-12

Boy loves dog; boy loses dog.  That’s what happens to Hobart (Hobey) Hanson, and it seems like a raw deal.  There’s been a big war going on for the last three years, and he and other “young citizens” have been doing their part by organizing rubber collections and scrap-metal drives.  When a neighbor tells him about the Dogs for Defense program, and observes that his handsome German shepherd Duke would be a prime candidate for guarding munitions factories, Hobie isn’t sold.  His own dad is flying bombing runs over Germany—hasn’t his family sacrificed enough?  But in a moment of weakness he enlists Duke in the program, and spends the first half of the book trying to get him out again.  At least Duke is only serving stateside . . . or is he?

Kirby Larson, whose Hattie books we’ve reviewed here and here, tells another straightforward story with plenty of moxie and heart (and cultural references).  Much of it seems standard—the large-boned bully, the tomboy, the shy new kid and the annoying little sister—but that’s part of its charm for a younger reader, who can use the familiar types as a stepping stone to an unfamiliar period.  They’ll also enjoy the jokes Hobie is always telling, in imitation of his dad, and the letters that purport to be from Duke, written by his trainer—a guy who knows both dogs and boys and understands what a boy needs to hear from his dog.  The suspense rides on whether Duke (not to mention Dad) will come back, and I won’t spoil it.  Kids should read it for themselves.

Cautions: None

Overall Rating: 4 (out of 4)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4
  • Literary value: 4

Categories: Middle Grades, Historical Fiction, Animal Stories, War, Character Values, Life Issues


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