I just finished reading a great book for dog lovers - young and old - Darling, Mercy Dog of World War 1. One of a series of new books from Peachtree Publishers called Dog Chronicles, this one sheds light on service dogs used during the First World War. Written by Alison Hart, author of numerous books for children and teens, it is perfectly suited for upper elementary, as well as older readers.
Told from the dog's point of view, we follow Darling from her family life in England to the trenches of war in France and Belgium. Just as the book (and movie) War Horse informed us of the plight of so many horses during this horrific war, this book shows another group of animals who were also useful. Personally, although I'm a huge dog and animal lover, I was largely unaware of dogs being used for messengers, scouts and mercy dogs during this time period.
Here's a short summary:
At home in England, Darling is a mischievous but much loved pet to Robert and Katherine. But when the British military asks families to volunteer their dogs to help the war effort, they send Darling off to be trained, even though it is very hard to say goodbye. Darling goes through training along with many other dogs and is ultimately used as a mercy dog, seeking out injured soldiers on the battlefield and leading the medics to them. After saving the lives of numerous soldiers, Darling is faced with a major challenge.
What I liked about this book: I learned something new. Mercy dogs were taught to go quietly through the battlefields, amidst the noise and chaos, to search for injured and wounded soldiers. Then they would return to seek help.
It has some great interior illustrations from Michael G. Montgomery, which lend an element of understanding to the text.
I also liked that although the horrors of war are touched upon, they are not dwelt on excessively in this book, making it (in my opinion) suitable for children. The story is mostly about what the dog Darling goes through in her ordeals, the human connections she makes along the way, and *Spoiler Alert* it has a happy (although not perfect) ending, which is one reason I am recommending it. And yes, I did shed a tear or two at the end. It got to me.
For more on Alison Hart and her numerous other books, please visit her website: http://www.alisonhartbooks.com/
Darling, Mercy Dog of World War 1 is available in hardback from your local independent bookstore, or from online retailers. It's definitely one to put on your Christmas list for young dog or animal lovers.