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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Strongheart: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen, written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann. Schwartz & Wade, Penguin Random House. 2018. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"People screamed and scattered.
But Strongheart only had eyes for
the pudgy, balding studio hand
standing beside Jane. The man
turned and started running.
Strongheart lunged. Catching
him by one of his ankles, he
threw the man flat on his back.
"Stop! Stop!" commanded Larry.
Strongheart didn't obey. Seizing
the front of the man's jacket in his
fangs, he shook with furious might."

How many kids do you know who don't like dogs and their stories? You will find many fans in middle years classrooms who will fully appreciate this tale of one very special such hero. Candace Fleming's tale is based on the true story of a German Shepherd that was trained as a police dog in  Germany in the 1920s. His early life was a happy one. That changed dramatically while being trained as a police dog. Then, he was discovered by Larry Trimble.

Trimble was a Hollywood director looking for the perfect dog to cast in a silent film he wanted to make. The dog had be smart with a dramatic flair, and he had to be handsome. Strongheart fit the bill perfectly. Larry took him back to the United States. The two became inseparable, along with screenwriter Jane Murfin. Their story is one of ups and downs, tragedy and triumph. Readers get a strong sense of the 'wonder dog' and the brilliant actor he became. Along the way, they also learn about his uncanny ability to detect thieves in crowds, bond with young orphan boys in need of a hero, and the movie-making business itself. 

It is an adventurous tale, and romantic at times. Strongheart does find the love of his life, and starts a family. Eric Rohmann's wonderful oil paintings, done in black and white, give life to the many dramatic events and show Strongheart to be the intelligent and expressive star he becomes. Kids will find their own favorite scenes; mine is the three page one in which he actively exhibits a love for doughnuts!

Before the dogs I remember from television, there was Strongheart, the first canine movie star. His  story is as dramatic as the he was. I whipped through it in quick time, wanting to know more about this amazing dog, his life, and his legacy. There is certainly suspense, both early and later in his life.

An author's note provides welcome information. There are also archival photos, a movie list, and a bibliography.

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