War Woofs

WarDogs_300War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus
Written and illustrated by Kathryn Selbert
(Charlesbridge, 2013, Boston, $17.95)

Anyone who has ever loved an animal can testify to their ability to help humans through hard times: their cheerful, loving companionship allows us to temporarily forget our woes. In this respect, the most powerful are no different from the rest of us. The company of Rufus, a loyal miniature poodle, sustained British Prime Minister Winston Churchill through World War II and the London Blitz. In War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus, author-illustrator Kathryn Selbert tells the story of this extraordinary friendship – and, in the process, educates young readers about both Churchill and the Blitz.

War Dogs is a charming picture-book biography: Rufus, the small, brown, bright-eyed poodle, sniff the prime minister’s papers, shares his tea, and struts jauntily, tail held high, through city streets. But juxtaposed with the warmth of their bond is Churchill’s worry over the fate of a city, a nation, and the world. Readers see him pouring over maps in underground bunkers; they also see neighborhoods obscured by smoke or reduced to rubble. Most spreads include a Churchill quote, all of which exemplify his eloquence and his ability to rally his fellow Londoners through a period of unimaginable fear, uncertainty, and death. A timeline of World War II and biographical notes about Churchill and his love for animals should help adults and older children put the narrative in its historical context.

With War Dogs, Kathryn Selbert offers more than an engaging introduction to a historical figure. Her picture-book biography not only humanizes Churchill; it highlights both the devastation that war causes and the hope people can sustain with the help of a great leader – and a great dog.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

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