‘Rags: Hero Dog of WWI’ is rich in heart and humor

Ask anybody.

Ask your family, your friends, and they’ll tell you that your dog is pretty wonderful. They’ve seen his tricks. They know how well-behaved he is, how he protects you and how he makes you laugh. Your lives are richer because of your dog.

He tries to go everywhere with you — but would he go to war? In the book “Rags: Hero Dog of WWI” by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Petra Brown, you’ll read the story of one dog who did.

It was a hot July night during World War I when Private James Donovan met his best friend.

The sirens were blaring all evening, which told the people of Paris that they needed to extinguish their lights and make their streets dark so they wouldn’t be seen by enemy planes. Donovan was blindly trying to find his way around the city when he stepped on the paw of a dirty white dog. “YIKES!”

Donovan scooped up the pup, who had never been held before. He’d never even had a friend, but he liked this soldier. And Donovan liked the dog; in fact, when a policeman stopped them, Donovan said the dog belonged to the U.S. Army! He made up a name for the pooch on the spot: First Division Rags.

Fortunately, Donovan’s commander wasn’t mad. He liked Rags, and he said that Donovan could keep him. And so, when Donovan was sent to battle, Rags insisted on going with him.

That was a very good thing, too. Rags worked hard at keeping rats and mice away from the soldiers. He acted as an early-warning system for incoming shells; when he fell “belly-to-dirt,” so did the soldiers. He sniffed out wires and carried messages across enemy lines, which was very dangerous.

Soon, everyone knew about Rags. He was “a giant of a dog.”

But even giants can be hurt, and so can their humans. On Oct. 9, 1918, Rags and Donovan were both shell-struck in a major battle. Rags lost the hearing in one ear, the sight in one eye, and his leg was injured.

“But Rags was alive and with his Donovan.”

I can’t bear to tell you how this book ends. I just can’t, except to say that you’ll want to beware if your child is sensitive. Yes, “Rags: Hero Dog of WWI” is potentially a very emotional book.

And yet — it’s hard to put aside a story of the heroism of a rescue dog in the face of incredible danger. Author Margot Theis Raven tells it with heart, gentle humor and the kind of excitement that comes with battle but she doesn’t overtell it, which should help put parents’ minds to rest. And the illustrations by Petra Brown…? They only enhance this book.

Still, this is a brave-but-sad tale with an epilogue that may make your sensitive reader feel better, though I’d recommend reading it first yourself before giving it to your 6- to 10-year-old. If care is needed and it’s presented properly, “Rags: Hero Dog of WWI” is truly a story of riches.

View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of books for children and teens weekly.

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