Sunday, April 10, 2016

A soldier, a dog and a boy by Libby Hathorn illustrated by Phil Lesnie

Here is another important book to add to your collection for ANZAC Day.

When you open this book take time to think about and talk about the very first page - the opening end paper.  Here you can see a solitary soldier walking across a grassy landscape  He has his rifle.  His focus is on moving forward.  In the foreground there are some red poppies.  The sky is cloudy and a flock of birds are flying overhead.  The scene looks oddly peaceful  but is this possible if this is a soldier going to war? Now turn the page.  This is the half title page and here you will see a little brown and white dog.  He looks sad,and slightly disheveled.  He is surrounded by red splotches - is this blood?  Now turn to the title page (see below).  This is a double spread.  Added to our characters of a solder and a dog we now see a small boy.  All three figures are moving forward.  On this page the red splotches look more like the poppies moving in the wind.  The solider looks happy, the dog is focused and moving with a purpose and the boy - well he looks sad.  His shoulders and arms suggest a sense of resignation.

The story opens with the solider.  He has found a lost dog.  He thinks this dog would make a good mascot for his troop.  He tries to give the dog some simple instructions - sit, roll over etc.  The dog takes no notice of him.  He names the dog Flanders and they set off toward the camp but a boy comes running across the grass.  "Bonjour, soldier.  Monsieur, that is my dog."

I am not going to tell you what happens next it is too important and emotional.  You need to read this book to find out.

The final end papers show a very different scene with fireworks and a happy family - boy, wife, young man and not just one dog but two!

This book was inspired by Libby' search for details of her uncle who was killed at the Somme in 1917.  You can read more about this in her book Eventual Poppy Day.  While completing her research Libby found a photograph of a "returned Australian solider holding open a sack revealing a young orphaned French boy who had been smuggled out of France."

You can read about the illustrator here.  He is talking about another book Once a Shepherd but this interview gives you a sense of his commitment to his work.  A solider, a dog and a boy is an excellent example of how perfect picture books really are the marriage of text and illustration.

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