We have been covering World War One in our history and as I always like to do, I have linked our History with our English. The book I chose to start our World War One reading is probably not one that most people would think of but it has been one that has truly taken us on a journey. A journey that has changed my kids understanding of life during World War One and made it seem more personal and real.
My initial interest was based on the fact that we had learnt about how dogs where used during the First World War and it was something that both of my kids found fascinating. So when I saw a fictional story about a war dog I thought it might be good story for us to do. And it really was. The book covers the dogs in war topic brilliantly, but I was not expecting the human characters to grip us and really leads us into life during World War I the way they did. And it was not just the main human character (although we really loved him), a number of the smaller characters really came to life and became “real people”, people that we cared about and desperately wanted to know if they survived the war.
The story centers around a fourteen year old boy who lives on a farm and loves looking after his dad’s dogs. But after his dad supposedly kills one of the puppies the boy leaves and joins the army, with the quest to go and find his older brother who is somewhere on the Western Front. You get to walk with the main character through basic training and then through dog training (he manages to get assigned as a dog handler) and finally travel with him as they are shipped out to the Western Front. Although this part seems like it is a long introduction because he is not yet “fighting on the Western Front” it sets a really good image of everything that needed to happen behind the scenes of the Western Front, something which we all thought was actually really interesting.
Once he gets to the Western Front you almost feels like the descriptive writing explodes. I was constantly aware of how noisy and overwhelming it must have been. Both of my kids found the descriptions about no-mans land incredibly powerful and at one part my son lifted his hands to his nose as if to stop the bad smell from the trenches (the descriptions really are powerful). And although it is not a story about suffering from Shell Shock or soldiers deserting it is something that we ended up discussing multiple times because you can not help but understand how living in those conditions must have left so many people emotionally and mentally destroyed.
Even though it is an incredibly descriptive story about how awful trench warfare was the author managed to weave in a number of moments of human goodness and kindness, which helps to keep a balance so the kids are not left feeling depressed or miserable. I was really impressed with this balance as my kids are sensitive kids and I was worried about war literature being hard for them but the author really strikes the right balance here (Spoiler alert – it also helps that the main character and his immediate family survive).
And just to prove how much they enjoyed this book both kids have now requested that we try another war book written by Sam Angus – A Horse Called Hero
For those of you home educating you can actually download a Free set of lesson plans and activities for Soldier Dog from the Oxford University Press site. We did a few of the activities in the beginning but actually the kids and I really got into the story and we did not want to break for activities so we ending up just reading and discussing everything from the middle until the end.
We bought our copy of soldier Dog from Amazon – Soldier Dog
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