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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Innocent Heroes: Stories of Animals in the First World War, by Sigmund Brouwer. Tundra, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 12 and up

"Missing in action. Lance groaned. His sorrow was for the family he'd leave behind. And for Coal Dust. Such a noble animal had not deserved to die. Then he wondered. What if ... No. He told himself he shouldn't fool himself with hope. Even if Coal Dust had survived, the shell would have sent him running in panic. He would have stayed with the herd and galloped away with any surviving cavalry. Yet ... "

Three fictional soldiers, eight animals braving terrible and terrifying conditions, and brief sections of informational text to add understanding for the stories shared will find favor with eager middle school readers who are keen to know more than they already do about the Great War - WWI.

The French battlefield at Vimy Ridge is the setting for the eight accounts shared. A different animal is showcased in each one. They were used in battle to get messages from one place to another, to carry ammunition and supplies, to carry soldiers into battles and hopefully be there to bring them out.

Nonfiction sections follow the story to help explain how each participated and their importance to the fighting.

     "When Cher Ami was released, enemy gunners were waiting and fired such a volley that three bullets struck the bird. One bullet blinded Cher Ami. A second bullet tore through his chest. And a third bullet shattered his leg.
        Cher Ami fluttered to the ground. Then, to the soldiers' disbelief and joy, Cher Ami struggled back into the air and flew forty kilometers (25 mi.) to deliver the message, saving the trapped soldiers."

Further explanations discuss the use of the carrier pigeon in war, communication difficulties in World War One, and enhance understanding for how carrier pigeons deliver messages.

Kids love to know these stories of heroes in the animal world. They have such admiration for the work they do, as did the soldiers they helped. Jake, Charlie and Thomas are three soldiers from very different backgrounds and we learn about them as we read. Included in the text is a discussion concerning the treatment levelled at indigenous soldiers while they were fighting and following their discharge, offering a chance for readers to learn more about aboriginal history.

Action-filled and detailed, this book brings bravery to the forefront - brave soldiers and brave animals. I like the short sections that follow each account as they provide information that make the stories even more memorable. They could be read aloud chapter by chapter in middle grade classrooms to give listeners a sense of the sacrifices made by so many.

Today, we need to honor those who fought, and who still fight, to assure our freedom.

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