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.




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