War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus by Kathryn Selbert

Charlesbridge, 2013.

This is a picture book and geared toward a younger audience than I generally review for, grades 2-5, according to the publisher’s information. I’m including it here anyway because although Kathryn Selbert has written a story that would appeal to elementary school kids, I think it could also be a good entry into World War II study in a middle school classroom. It might even make an interesting study for high school students of ways to present complex information.

The story follows Winston Churchill and his poodle Rufus through the events of the war. The poodle provides a great bridge between everyday life and life during the war, showing the humanity of one of history’s greatest world leaders. Selbert’s paintings are detailed and include Churchill’s war room, the streets of London after the Blitz, the beaches on D-Day, and even the victory parade.

I enjoyed the story and its glimpse into Winston Churchill’s life. Perhaps my favorite part of this book is the small typed cards that look like they have been affixed to the pages with a push pin. Each card contains a dated quote from Churchill’s speech or writings.

The end notes are a valuable addition to the book. Selbert includes a two page timeline of events beginning in 1939 with the invasion of Poland and ending with Japan’s surrender in 1945. Notes about Churchill’s love of poodles and about Churchill himself give information as well as insight into the world leader. Finally, an extensive list of sources would provide any young researcher with a great start to find out more.

I could see this book being used in an elementary school classroom to introduce students to the events of the war. Because of the quotations and rich resources, it might also be used to teach middle school and high school students. The students might have to work a bit to get past the illustrated picture book aspect, and yet, I think some valuable discussions just might place about the choices the author made in telling her story from this point of view. The quotes also provide a great example of how primary sources can be used within a piece written about history.




Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone

Candlewick 2013

I have a critique partner who lets you know when you really get something right. When that happens she says, “I love this–love, love!” It’s the ultimate seal of approval. That’s the way I feel about Tanya Lee Stone’s account of the Triple Nickles.

I’ve always been drawn to paratrooper stories, which, if you knew me, makes no sense at all. In fact, the paratrooper I most related to in this book was the one who balked when it came to actually jumping out of the plane. He couldn’t make the jump, just couldn’t throw his body out of the plane, but he wouldn’t leave the group either. He stayed with them and became their cook. That would be me. Chili anyone?

Whether you’re afraid of heights or not, Courage Has No Color is an inspiring story about a group of men who overlooked racism and prejudice against them in their drive to prove their dedication to their country and their wish to contribute to the war effort in World War II. Stone candy coats nothing and makes the degree of prejudice they faced clear through the men’s recollections, but she keeps the story focused on the Triple Nickles’ drive for success in an elite and very difficult field. She rounds it out by looking at integration in the armed forces as a whole. She also makes connections to the struggle of Japanese-Americans to fight internment and aid in the war effort and points out the irony of the racist attitudes and policies of Americans and the American government while fighting the Nazi regime’s racist atrocities.

The story drew me right in. It had me rooting for the success of the group who began training on their own time as a way to beat the boredom of guard duties at the paratrooper training grounds. Photographs and personal interviews make the story come alive. A final story of one of the Triple Nickles pinning the paratrooper wings on his grandson in a fully integrated graduation ceremony had tears pricking in my eyes.

A timeline, notes on writing the story, and a long bibliography of sources make this a great learning tool. This would be a wonderful addition to any school library. I’d also recommend it as a classroom read-aloud book. It’s filled with wonderful period images and includes much fodder for classroom discussions.