Before Rin Tin Tin and Lassie there was Strongheart, the first canine movie star, whose real-life career serves as the basis of this fast-paced, dramatic story from Fleming and Rohmann.
In the silent-film era of the 1920s, director Larry Trimble decides his next big movie star will be a dog and in Berlin finds what he is looking for: a thoroughly trained, 3-year-old, male German shepherd with a fierce disposition named Etzel. Renamed Strongheart, Trimble’s find becomes an instant superstar with the release of his first film, The Silent Call, in 1921. Strongheart has an off-screen romance with his leading lady in the appropriately titled The Love Master, resulting in a litter of puppies. The climax of the story is a dramatic courtroom trial in which Strongheart stands accused of attacking and killing 6-year-old Sofie Bedard, but boys from an orphanage produce Sofie in court at the last moment. Strongheart is vindicated when it’s discovered Sofie’s parents orchestrated her disappearance for an extortion scheme. Like a silent movie plot, Fleming’s narrative is full of adventure, romance, and suspense. An author’s note explains the facts behind the story. Rohmann’s expressive illustrations beautifully capture Strongheart’s personality; their integration into the book’s design is striking. Particularly notable are three two-page spreads depicting the dog contemplating and then stealing a doughnut.
A touching, playful, and satisfying tale of a silver-screen wonder dog. (photos, bibliography, notes) (Historical fiction. 8-12)