There are several picture books created for young people about Australia’s part in the Anzac War. These consider war’s impact, not just on adults, but also on children. ‘A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy’ endpapers open the story with an Anzac soldier walking through a field of poppies. He tells this story through dialogue, thus revealing his perspective. He spies a dog and immediately hopes that the dog might become his company’s mascot. He wonders, though, why the dog appears to know no commands until a young French boy, Jacques, claims his dog, Victoire, who only understands French. The soldier and boy gently unravel the situation: the boy has no family or home and orphanages are unwilling to take dogs. So, the boy forages for a living in villages, fields and bombed-out shelters.
Although not specifically discussed in the text, Phil Lesnie’s strongly emotional illustrations reveal the impact of war. In one particular scene, empty and destroyed buildings confront the viewer. Libby Hathorn includes an author’s note stating that this story was inspired by her own family history and a World War 1 photograph in the State Library of New South Wales. That photograph revealed a young orphaned French boy who had been smuggled out of France in a sack. Final jubilant endpapers reveal the soldier now returned home, lounging on a hillside watching firework celebrations. The scene is happy and comfortable revealing the boy and his dog, the returned soldier and his wife plus yet another young dog. Picture books like ‘A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy’ with its heartfelt text and period illustrations capture the historical time and place while exploring the impact of war on all ages.
Readers might compare this picture book with a similar true story, ‘The Little Stowaway’ written by Vicki Bennett and illustrated by Tull Suwannak (Scholastic 2018). Perhaps these two books are based on the same story.
‘A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy’ was the joint winner in 2017 of the Asher Literary Award, offered biennially to a female author whose work carries an anti-war theme.