Sunday, October 21, 2012

Middle Grade Monday-- Military Service Dogs

Semper Fido (Dog Tags #1)London, C. Alexander. Semper Fido (Dog Tags #1)
Publication date given as May 2013; paperbacks available in Scholastic Book Fairs now! (With the book listed below, for $9.99)

Gus has enlisted in the Marines against the wishes of his mother, since his father abandoned the family after a tour in the military. He ends up training dogs at Lackland Air Force base and is assigned Loki, a a dog who has already been in Afghanistan but whose handler was killed.Because Gus works so hard with Loki, they are sent back very quickly, since there is a shortage of dogs who can detect bombs, and many of the units are being sabotaged by these during their patrols. Gus wants to do a good job, stay alive, and be a hero in his younger brother's eyes, so he works hard and tries to distance himself emotionally a bit from Loki.The pair do a good job, saving the unit a couple of times, but it is war, and there are deaths and injuries. Luckily, their training keeps them working and alive, and keeping most of the Marines they are attached to safe.
Strengths: This is exactly what my students want. There is a good balance between the philosophical difficulties of war and the action, and the addition of the dog units is nothing short of brilliant. Very realistic, too-- when the 8th grade went to D.C. last spring, we saw a dog demonstration at Quantico that was exactly as described. Brilliant.
Weaknesses: Agh! Not available in hardcover or prebind!!! No! I need two copies right now. Drat.

Strays (Dog Tags #2)London, C. Alexander. Strays (Dog Tags #2)

Chuck keeps reupping to stay in Vietnam to be with Ajax, the dog who saved his life. During the 1960s, there was concern that dogs would bring back diseases from the jungle, so the dogs were either given to the Vietnamese or put down when they were done serving, and Gus has promised Ajax he won't leave him. He moves from unit to unit, but at the end of the war, he is with a group of guys with whom he is especially close. Double O is from New York City, and is worried about going back to prejudice against blacks in the states. Billy and Doc just want to survive their tours. When Chuck finds out that the canine unit is going to be disbanded and Ajax will most likely be put down, he hears of a dog sanctuary run by a French farmer and decides to go AWOL in order to deliver Ajax there. Despite the dangers, the three men decide to go with him. They face many dangers, including a town full of wounded Vietnamese dissenters under the care of a school teacher who are attacked by the ARNV. Ajax saves the day, and Gus makes the difficult decision to leave the dog with the teacher and her son.
Strengths: Again, awesome books that my boys will adore. Good friendships, close bond with dog, action. The history of the dog unit during this era was something I had never heard. I cried at the end. Cried.
Weaknesses: Starting the book with a ping pong game didn't quite work for me. I felt that there was something about the importance of ping pong to soldiers during Vietnam that I wasn't getting, especially since it seemed to be a motif. Nit picky, though.

Dogs on Duty: Soldiers' Best Friends on the Battlefield and BeyondPatent, Dorothy Hinshaw. Dogs on Duty: Soldier's Best Friends on the Battle and Beyond.
4 September 2012, Walker
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

This short (48 page) book is as complete a coverage of Military Working Dogs (MWDs) as I have seen. It goes back as far as WWI in its history of military dogs, talking about how families donated their dogs during WWII and does address how dogs during Vietnam were considered "equipment" and were left behind or euthanized. Noteworthy dogs from many eras are highlighted, and the book is well illustrated with photographs throughout. For the modern era, the training that dogs receive from puppyhood onward is described in great detail, as is the training of their handlers. Specialized Search Dog training is addressed (for dogs who can locate bombs), and the equipment that dogs wear is described. Further resources, a glossary, and index are included. This is an excellent resource, as well as an interesting book that many readers interested in either the military or in dogs will find very informative.

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Hope is the Word.


  1. I'm interested to read more 'soldier' or war-themed books as I have also fallen in love with J. Patrick Lewis' And the Soldiers Sang. I also teach the Army here in Singapore, so it would give me more 'materials' to kind of share with them. :) I also have a beloved friend who's now based in Afghanistan as a member of the special forces, it would be good to find these books and share them with him. :)

  2. I can see a lot of middle grade boys liking these books. What an interesting topic.

  3. I can see these being great reads. While I don't really read about the military - I would be drawn to reading about the dogs involvement.

    - Jessica @ Book Sake

  4. Dog Tags looks like a good series, especially for boys. Interesting idea!

    Also, am I totally spacing, or do you have a new blog look. If it's new, it looks fantastic! If not, it still looks fantastic, it just means I'm a space cadet for not saying something before ;)

    Have a good week!

  5. Wow! I haven't heard of any of these books. Thanks for the heads-up, Ms. Yingling. Good boy books are hard to find.