About the Book
Billie has lived with her great-aunt ever since her mom passed away and her dad left. Billie’s big brother, Leo, is about to leave, too, for the warfront. But first, she gets one more weekend with him at the ranch.
Billie’s surprised when Leo brings home a fellow Marine from boot camp, Denny. She has so much to ask Leo — about losing her best friend and trying to find their father — but Denny, who is Navajo, or Diné, comes with something special: a gorgeous, but injured, stray dog. As Billie cares for the dog, whom they name Bear, she and Bear grow deeply attached to each other.
Soon enough, it’s time for Leo and Denny, a Navajo Code Talker, to ship out. Billie does her part for the war effort, but she worries whether Leo and Denny will make it home, whether she’ll find a new friend, and if her father will ever come back. Can Bear help Billie — and Denny — find what’s most important?
A powerful tale about unsung heroism on the WWII battlefield and the home front.
My Thoughts About This Book:
I was drawn to this book by a review I read. This book has three elements I always look for in middle-grade books before I begin reading them: Historical fiction–this one is set during World War II. Diverse characters–this one features Navajo and Mexican characters portrayed positively and in important roles.Animals as inspirational supporting characters–this one has a dog.
The other component I look for as I am reading the book are the feelings of empathy and compassion and the maturing of a character through lessons learned. These elements can only be garnered by a skilled author.
This book possesses all of these traits.
What sets this story apart from others is Kirby Larson’s awesome writing style. She seems to flawlessly place the right words on the page at just the right tempo and in just the right order. Her setting and characters are well-developed. Her novel is obviously well-researched from my reading of non-fiction about this time period.
I particularly liked the way the main character, Billie, reached beyond her lonely, mournful life to touch others through her kindness and friendship. In particular, she forges a friendship with a boy from Mexico whose father works on Billie’s great-aunt’s ranch. Tito is wise beyond his years, in my opinion, when it comes to his emotional intelligence regarding being bullied by the so-called popular kids in school.
Another exceptional aspect of this book is the World War II depiction of military life and the battle scenes the author so carefully researched. Billie’s close relationship with her older brother, Leo, is admirable.
Finally, the inclusion of Denny, a Navajo friend of Leo’s, and the abandoned dog he brought home to Billie’s house enrich the plot ten-fold. The tribute to the ‘Navajo Code Talker’ program in WWII and the courageous men who participated in this ground-breaking mission was intriguing.
I believe this is a story that should not be missed by middle-grade readers. It would also make a worthwhile read-aloud in class or during a family’s reading time. So many great life lessons are taught in its pages.
Highly recommended to middle-grade readers, fans of historical and military fiction, fans of animal-centered fiction, and fans of literature which includes diverse populations as strong characters.
I borrowed this book from the Children’s Section of the local public library.
Below is a link to the Goodreads page listing all four installments in the ‘Dogs of World War II’ series by this author with links to their book blurbs.
About the Author
Kirby Larson went from history-phobe to history fanatic while writing the 2007 Newbery Honor Book, HATTIE BIG SKY. Her passion for historical fiction is reflected in titles such as THE FENCES BETWEEN US, THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL, as well as the sequel to HATTIE BIG SKY, HATTIE EVER AFTER, and her two latest titles, DUKE–which was nominated for 5 state Young Reader Choice awards as well as being a finalist for the Washington State Book Award– and DASH–which has garnered two starred reviews, a NAPPA Gold Award and a Capitol Choices nomination.
In 2006, Kirby began a collaboration with her good friend Mary Nethery resulting in two award-winning nonfiction picture books: TWO BOBBIES: A TRUE STORY OF HURRICANE KATRINA, FRIENDSHIP AND SURVIVAL, and NUBS: THE TRUE STORY OF A MUTT, A MARINE AND A MIRACLE.
Kirby lives in Kenmore, Washington with her husband, Neil, and Winston the Wonder Dog. When she’s not reading or writing Kirby enjoys beach combing, bird watching, and traveling. She owns a tiara and is not afraid to use it.