Soldier Dog by Sam Angus, is a children’s historical novel. This book is set in 1917, mainly on the western front in France during the First World War. It is a book written for age 12 plus. However, it contains emotive topics which may be difficult for an extremely sensitive child/young teen. I read it outloud to my 11 and 13 year old. We all cried, many, many times. There were times I would have liked to have had an audio version to take over from me. Fortunately, the audio version is excellent, should you choose to listen to it as a family. Soldier Dog is also available on Kindle. This is particularly useful because some of the vocabulary might be difficult or unfamiliar to some children. Kindle’s instant access dictionary could help with this without interfering too much with the flow of the story.
The story opens with the everyday life of a young teen, Stanley Ryder. Stanley lives alone with his Da. Already broken from losing first his wife to illness, he is devastated when eldest son, Tom, leaves for the war. Additionally, many of his adored animals were also taken, again for the war efforts. Stanley accidentally leaves the door open allowing his dog, Rocket, to roam free. Rocket, a pure breed, becomes pregnant, which angers an already frustrated, grieving Da.
Stanley nurtures all the resulting puppies. However, he becomes very close to the runt, whom he names Soldier after his brother. His father cannot afford to keep the dogs and unknown to Stanley takes them away.
Unable to handle his own grief at losing Soldier, and with no-one to turn to, Stanley enlists in the army. His only goal is to reach the frontline and find his brother Tom. Underage but determined, Stanley finds himself assigned to training messenger dogs to be sent to the front line. Against all the odds, his assigned dog, Bones, nudges himself into Stanley’s emotions.
The dog’s high, close-set ears tightened so that they touched each other, twin sails atop his square skull. He smacked his jowls and blinked up at Stanley, then shuffled his haunches back to sit on Stanley’s toes, nestling against Stanley’s legs.”Soldier Dog p68
As Stanley works with Bones, he begins to heal and learn to love again. He trains Bones to be able to carry messages between battalions.
You’ve done well, Ryder, very well. Bones has taken your courage, your sense of honour for his own. He’ll always be true, faithful and brave, even to the last beat of his heart, he would – I have no doubt – give his own life for you”Soldier Dog p84
Stanley and Bones are drafted to the French western front, where love and loyalty are tested to the extreme. And heartbreak is the norm. What follows is a story of courage, trust and, most importantly, redemption. Stanley learns that his Da is still there, underneath all that bristling loss. Also, he discovers his own inner strength and determination, finally understanding that all is never completely lost when hope exists.
Do I recommend Soldier Dog?
Soldier Dog is a touching heartbreaking novel, which will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it. Author, Sam Angus, is a descriptive genius. Each character is multidimensional and even when they are behaving badly, you still root for them, understanding their frailties. As such, it is realistically harrowing but not so excessively bleak that you lose hope. I challenge you not to become deeply invested in Stanley’s world and the characters which inhabit it.
Angus explores the role of animals in World War One and the poignant unique relationship between man and his dog. However, it is much more than just a war novel, demonstrating the complexities of life and how this affects relationships
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Often, whilst reading it outlaid to my girls, they begged for just one more chapter. In fact, nearing the end, they would not allow me to stop. Just one warning though: make sure you have a big box of tissues! This is a sob out loud sort of book. There were times I simply had to stop reading because I could not control my feelings! This is a perfect go along book for a First World War homeschool unit study.