Dogs of War by Sheila Keenan (review)
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Reviewed by
Keenan, Sheila. Dogs of War; illus. by Nathan Fox. Scholastic, 2013. 197p ISBN 978-0-545-12887-2 $22.99 R* Gr. 5-9

The title may prioritize dogs, but these three historical fiction stories in this graphic novel actually focus more strongly on the men who served with those dogs in three different wars. In “Boots,” sixteen-year-old Marcellinus McDonald is a doctor’s assistant on the Western Front in 1914, and Boots is his beloved “mercy dog,” who finds the wounded in No Man’s Land. “Loki” is a sled dog in a rescue unit stationed in 1942 Greenland, where his master relies on him in a solo encounter with some reconnoitering Nazis. The final story, “Sheba,” follows young Henry in 1968 North Carolina as his struggles with his obstreperous beagle pup bring him friendship with a recently returned Vietnam vet haunted by his experience on patrol with his German shepherd, Sheba. Keenan creates vivid voices for her [End Page 219] characters, effectively tucking in exposition to convey information about everything from military objectives to daily life details in three very different situations. There’s action aplenty, but the rhythms and trajectories vary effectively: “Boots” is a classic story of the Christmas Truce; “Loki” is an adventure tale of intelligence and hand-to-hand combat; “Sheba,” which could stand alone as a book in its own right, is a poignant tale of male bonding between a young fatherless African-American boy and a black soldier overwhelmed by his experiences. Though the chaos of the action scenes can make them difficult to read, the art is atmospheric and effective, blending cinematic heroism, especially in the portraits of the dogs, with often daunting realism. Diehard warmongers, dog fans, and graphic-novel readers will all find something new here, and this will be an easy booktalk to readers reluctant and otherwise.

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