By Kirby Larson
Scholastic, August 2013
About the Book
With a war sweeping the world in 1944, Hobart “Hobie” Hanson’s father flies B-24s in Europe, his mother serves the Red Cross in their Seattle neighborhood, and his little sister knits socks for soldiers. But is the fifth-grader, as a popular war slogan suggests, doing all he can?
When Hobie hears about the Dogs for Defense program, he “enlists” his beloved pet, Duke, to serve with the armed forces. Instantly regretting his decision, Hobie tries to retrieve his dog as he also contends with his father’s uncertain fate, constant insults from the school bully, and risking his friendship with a new student of German descent.
Letters sent from Duke (and his trainer, of course) provide updates on the canine and insight into this little-known band of four-legged soldiers. Larson captures the time period with pop-culture references, such as the Hop Harrigan radio program, as well as with the war efforts back home, such as saving cooking fat to make explosives. A good example of how bravery comes in all shapes, sizes—and breeds.
I really enjoyed Kirby Larson’s newest novel. Duke is set in 1944 and 1945. Hobie Hanson, our narrator, has a dog he loves and adores. Duke is his very best friend in the world. Hobie doesn”t have that many friends; Scooter has just left town with his family because of the war. Max Klein is a new kid in his class, but Hobie doesn”t know if he has friend potential. Especially since the other kids in his class have chosen to pick on him.
Some days Hobie thinks it might be better to have no friends than to team up with the loser kid. So early in the novel, he makes the hardest decision of his young life. It is a decision that haunts him, a decision that changes everything. He decides to loan Duke to the army as a recruit in their K-9 division. It breaks his heart; it breaks his sister June’s heart. But there is a small part of him that knows it is the right thing to do, the brave thing, the selfless thing.
I loved reading about Hobie’s life at school, at home, and on the baseball field. I loved reading all the letters. His father, who is a pilot, writes when he can, as does Duke. I loved the historical details, loved getting a sense of what it was like to be a kid during the war. I thought the family details were great too. I really liked Hobie and June and their mom! I liked his growing friendship with Max as well. It is a complicated relationship, but, I think Hobie becomes a better person by the end of the novel.
I would definitely recommend this one!
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