Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Bravery Comes On Four Feet

You will have to look long and hard to find loyalty as strong.  In a heartbeat they will put themselves in harm's way to protect you.  Their love is flawless; unfailing until their final breath.  All humans fortunate to have canine friends know this to be true but each time a story is told or written and read, respect for them swells.

To know all these traits continue even on the battlefields of war is incredible.  Award-winning nonfiction author, Ann Bausum, shines the light on the accomplishments of a four-legged hero in Stubby The War Dog: The True Story of World War I's Bravest Dog (National Geographic, May 2014).  The best things do come in small packages.

The dog came out of nowhere.
No one knows the details of his breeding or birth.   No one knows whether he had looked on anyone else as master, how long he'd wandered without a home, whether he was lost or abandoned.  No one knows whether he'd ever had another name.

As recruits from New Haven, Connecticut trained on the grounds of Yale University in 1917 in preparation for entering the fighting in Europe during World War I, a new member entered their ranks.  Clever and quick, he swiftly attached himself to one particular solider, 25-year-old J. Robert Conroy. All summer wherever the soldier was Stubby was there too.  When word reached the 102nd Infantry of their deployment overseas, the dog decided to hop aboard the train taking them to Newport News, Virginia.   Affection for Stubby having grown, Conroy with help smuggled his pal aboard the Minnesota.

Among the first Americans to arrive in France, the Yankee Division (a nickname), including the 102nd Infantry, continued to refine their skills as they waited for more troops to arrive.  Stubby stuck by Conroy adjusting to their new environment honing his own abilities.  He learned to sit up on his two back legs, and raise his right front paw in a salute.  It is said he could detect the sound of incoming artillery fire, barking out a warming.  Rightly so, Conroy feared for Stubby's safety during gas attacks. He was fitted with a special mask.  Using his unique capabilities he would sound the alarm prior to these strikes by the enemy also.

His presence was a beacon of hope and comfort to all those soldiers.  In fact sadness settled over the group during his absence for several months after being wounded.  In and out of the trenches Stubby proved himself repeatedly to be as useful as his human counterparts.  As the American troops advanced he gave assistance in finding enemy soldiers or seeking out the wounded after battles.

At the conclusion of the fighting, every decoration a soldier received could be found on Stubby's uniform.  Yes...he had a uniform, a coat of sorts.  Upon their return home, Stubby and J. Robert Conroy were seen together in parades and in a vaudeville show.  He was even nominated and received a new award by the Eastern Dog Club, Hero Dog.

As Stubby's fame continued to expand through the efforts of his human, so did the scrapbook documenting his life. Sometime during their duty overseas, Conroy started to save visual and written mementos. The bond between this amazing animal and the man he choose is one to remember.  It's a piece of American history preserved forever in an exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington, D. C.

This outstanding nonfiction book begins with a forward by Curtis Deane, grandson of J. Robert Conroy.  In this writing Deane concludes with

His deep-seated attachment and respect for Stubby lasted a lifetime:  He never raised---or was raised by---another dog again.

Ann Bausum continues with an introduction and body of work which explains the basis for this statement by Deane. To tell you the truth once I started I could not stop reading this title.  Ann Bausum's research is impeccable; wide and deep.  Her ability to glean information and present it to readers as a story is remarkable.

In telling readers about the relationship between J. Robert Conroy and Stubby she centers it among descriptive circles of information about World War I and a past United States.  She skillfully provides enough facts to engage her readers without overwhelming them in details; connecting us to this title as if we are participants.  Here is a single passage.

In January of 1918 Col. John Henry Parker became the commander of Conroy's regiment.  This seasoned veteran of other American wars had earned the nickname "Machine Gun" Parker because of his expertise in the use of these rapid-firing weapons.  Parker knew Stubby because Conroy served in the colonel's headquarters company.  It was later reported that "Stubby was the only member of his regiment that could talk back to him and get away with it." When it came time for the 102nd to head to battle, Machine Gun Parker ordered Stubby to go, too. Now Stubby was the mascot for Conroy's entire regiment, not just its headquarters company.

The patriotic starburst background on the dust jacket behind Stubby in his full military regalia is repeated at the beginning of each chapter highlighting a photograph and quote. A full two-page illustration spans the book case, zooming in on Stubby on the left with several sets of men legs in uniform and the butt end of a rifle showing to his right.  The opening and closing endpapers are a blown up photograph of Stubby swimming with his pal, Conroy.

The design and layout of the actual images, newspaper clippings, quotations and text, especially the green backgrounds are mirroring that of Stubby's scrapbook.  Image sizes are varied to enhance and support the text.  I concur with the author in her assessment of one of the most personal photographs of Stubby and J. Robert Conroy.  The two are standing beneath a tree.  Conroy in uniform is starring down at Stubby, smiling, as he places his two front paws up on Conroy's thighs gazing upward.  They are frozen in time, a love not forgotten.

Will dog lovers like this book?  Absolutely.  Will readers who like to read war stories like this book?  Without question.  Is Stubby The War Dog: The True Story of World War I's Bravest Dog by Ann Bausum a book anyone can enjoy?  Yes. Yes. Yes.

At the book's conclusion Ann Bausum includes a two-page Time Line, several pages of Research Notes (Acknowledgments), a Bibliography, Resource Guide, Citations, an Index, and Illustration Credits.  Please visit Ann Bausum's website linked above in her name.  She provides lots of educational and interesting extras.

This post is several days late but I would not miss the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge held at Kidlit Frenzy each week.  I have benefited from this weekly fun hosted by Alyson Beecher.

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