Lynn: If I had a nickel for every kid who ever told me history was boring, I’d be living in the south of France eating glorious cheese and sipping a crisp Provencal rosé. The trick to gaining history converts, I firmly believe, is in showing kids that history is really just people’s stories. Well, here is another terrific arrow in the quill of fascinating stories but this is the story of an exceptional dog. Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog (National Geographic Kids 2014) is guaranteed to win kids’ hearts – and they will learn a lot of history along the way. And for those of you who are also allergic to books in which the dog dies, please be assured that Stubby miraculously survived the war and lived a long and happy life!
No one knows where Stubby came from. Probably a Boston bull terrier mix, Stubby started hanging around the Yale University athletic grounds in 1917. When the Connecticut National Guard started training there, Stubby had access to lots of food scraps and people who found him friendly and charming. One soldier in particular, James Robert Conroy, took special notice of Stubby and very quickly the two formed a strong bond. Stubby learned military ways just as quickly and Conroy even taught him to salute. But when it came time to deploy, James knew that Stubby would have to stay behind. Stubby was having none of it though and he sneaked onto the railroad car and Conroy eventually smuggled him aboard the ship headed for Europe. Once there, Conroy was assigned to an intelligence unit and Stubby proved to be an invaluable part of the unit. He hunted the rats that swarmed in the trenches, warned of incoming missiles and comforted wounded soldiers. Stubby brought love, friendship and reassurance to the soldiers around him. He is even credited with capturing a German soldier!
Bausman does a wonderful job of incorporating those dreaded facts of history into a heart-warming and inspiring story. Reader will come away with a good understanding of WWI warfare, the conditions in the trenches and the reality of a soldier’s life but it will be anything but “boring.”
Cindy: National Geographic is known for excellent photography but the many visuals of Stubby are still impressive. Young readers will enjoy seeing Stubby in his uniform, with his medals, and in action or at play and rest. It’s evident in the photos and the text that Stubby was never far from Conroy’s side. Even when Conroy was hospitalized with the Spanish flu, Stubby got special dispensation to stay next to the soldier’s cot. Sports fans might be interested to know that Stubby was one of the early mascots for the Georgetown Hoyas, and that he entertained the crowds during halftime by pushing a football around the field. While this book is perfect for elementary and middle school students, older teens might prefer the title she wrote for an adult audience: Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation (National Geographic 2014).
Common Core Connections
Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:
Not everyone agreed with the special treatment that Stubby received during and after the war. Prepare an oral presentation defending Stubby’s role in WWI, summarizing his contributions and using evidence in the text.
Read additional Nonfiction Monday reviews at the official round up blog hosted by Anastasia Suen.