“Duke,” by Kirby Larson. Scholastic Press. $16.99.
My most beloved breed, my hometown and a timeline in which I grew up. Does it get any better than that?
While the Seattle author’s latest work is designed for ages 8-12 (grades 3-7) it is a general educational read about the role of man’s best friend in World War II along with the Dogs for Defense program, in a 1½-year span (Jan. 1, 1944-June 30, 1945).
The book centers on Hobie Hanson, 11, and Duke, but Hanson’s All-American family is in the confluence of action throughout. The Hansons totally support the U.S. war effort – Hobie’s dad is fighting overseas and eventually becomes a Prisoner of War – while the others assume the role of home-front soldiers with war stamps, scrap drives and planting a Victory Garden.
Three-year-old Duke is Hobie’s 8-year-old birthday present and two grow into Velcro mates, but when Hobie decides to donate Duke to the K9 Corps, he does so with plenty of trepidation. Duke becomes a partner with an Ohio Marine, who writes poignant letters to Hobie in Dukespeak, then adds a few personal passages from himself.
Hobie is convinced Duke will serve stateside and not be put into harm’s way but all that changes later when he learns the Marine handler and Duke have been transferred from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to California, the launching point for U.S. troops’ deployment in the Pacific theater.
The family’s emotional bumpy ride is about to get even more turbulent before smoothing out. Hobie assumes a guilt complex and begins a frustrating effort to get Duke back before he heads abroad. But soon he learns his father has been taken prisoner by the Nazis and that Duke and his handler were injured in a battle on Guam.
Dealing with both tests the youngster’s mettle and maturity as the plot progresses liquidly smooth but in a plodding fashion toward a stirring conclusion.
The author’s framing of the big picture within narrow time dimensions balances frustration and fascination. Raptly attentive to detail, “Duke” is an uplifting yet sobering read that brims with history and oozes with personality.