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Book Review: The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett and Trish Bowles

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 29, 2014


The ANZAC Puppy

As you will know if you read my previous post sharing my school’s plans for a coherent approach to the Anzac commemorations this centenary year, I came across a New Zealand picture book called The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett.   I hadn’t seen it but thought it might be suitable as an alternative or supplement to Phil Cumming’s book, Anzac Biscuits which I’d chosen for Prep classes.  Peter contacted me, and very kindly sent me a copy of his book, which is now available in Australia from Wheeler’s Books.

Inspired by true events, The Anzac Puppy fictionalises the life of a Harlequin Great Dane called Freda, the mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade that served in World War 1.   She was acquired by a Sergeant Ashby who probably named the dog after a young woman from a family that befriended the young soldier so far from home.  The dog survived the war, and thanks to a campaign led by a retired serviceman, her remains are commemorated by a headstone in Staffordshire, and her collar and the original headstone are in the Army Museum at Waiouru in New Zealand.

In Peter Millett’s hands, these events have become a love story, with a young soldier called Sam acquiring the dog from a girl called Lucy when her family couldn’t afford to keep it.  He takes the dog to the battlefront, and together they survive the war.  Sam keeps his promise to bring the dog back to Lucy safe and sound, and they fall in love and marry.  Their first child is named Freda.

Lofty's MissionIt is a charming story, yet authentic in tone.  We know that soldiers did smuggle pets of all kinds into the trenches and took comfort from having something to love and care for  – but I think I’d use it with older children.  While the text doesn’t labour the point, there are allusions to the earth rocking and shaking all around him with illustrations showing injured men; to rats that scuttled about through the trenches; to Sam and the dog sharing everything even their fleas;  and to Sam’s letters which never mention the horrible sights or the sounds that surrounded him.  The illustrations, vividly rendered by Trish Bowles, include a battlefield scene with explosions and a plane on fire, a burial scene, and a devastated battleground after the armistice.   These are not aspects of war with which to confront five-year-old children who’ve (in April) only been at school for a few short months.  The text would also be too difficult for some of our EAL children whose command of English is still rudimentary.  I don’t think I’d use it with children in Year 1 or 2 either.

However, I think it’s a very appropriate text to accompany the unit of work that I do with my Year 3 and 4 students, called Animals at War, using the DVA kit, M is for Mates.  There are (inevitably) plenty of picture books about Simpson and his Donkey that are available for this unit, and I also have one called Lofty’s Mission by Krista Bell and David Miller, but there are surprisingly few stories about the other animals awarded medals.  (There’s one called Sandy the Waler (a horse) which you can download as a pdf from the Army Museum but it’s not a proper picture book and it’s a bit long winded and not very engaging).  So The Anzac Puppy fills this gap nicely, and because the illustrations show the dangers faced by the dog, the book also enables the kind of gentle discussion I’ve had with these older students about the ethics of taking animals to war.   It’s also appropriate for Australian children to have an opportunity to learn about our Kiwi cousins’ contribution to the Anzac story.

To download our school’s Prep-Y6 plan for Anzac Day to use or adapt for your own school, click here.

You can find out more about Peter Millett at his website.

Author: Peter Millett
Illustrator: Trish Bowles
Title: The Anzac Puppy
Publisher: Scholastic New Zealand, 2014
ISBN: 9781775430971
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author, and kindly autographed by him which will impress the students at my school!

Fishpond (which delivers free in Australia and New Zealand) claim that it’s unavailable on their website, but I bet they’ll get copies in if there are enough enquiries! Try this link:  The ANZAC Puppy

 

One Response to “Book Review: The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett and Trish Bowles”

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