West’s (Kalie Leads the Way, 2006) middle-grade novel tells a war dog’s history-inspired story.
Chips is a mischievous mutt who follows his nose without consideration of consequence. This sometimes gets him into trouble when it results in him chewing up the neighbors’ laundry, tearing up prize lilies, or sinking his teeth into the leg of a thoroughly distressed trashman. Other times, it results in heroics, as when he saves his family’s young son from drowning in the ocean. When the Japanese attack the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor and America is plunged into World War II, Chips qualifies for Dogs For Defense (his family expects the war to last no longer than six months). In boot camp, Chips is partnered with Pvt. Rowell; for three years, they serve together during some of the war’s most dangerous combat. Chips undergoes many of the same trials and stresses as his human counterparts: managing fear, losing friends, and even acclimating to civilian life. Along the way, he proves invaluable to the Allied war effort and becomes one of the most highly decorated K-9 soldiers in American history. West narrates the story in playful, energetic prose that mimics her protagonist’s point of view: “[Chips] had just begun to gnaw on an old garden glove when he looked up to see Mother stomping toward him with a dark look on her face.” The relationship between Chips and Rowell is genuinely affecting, and the book overall is a fine addition to the genre of children’s dog literature as well as a suitably tame yet informative war novel for younger readers. A dog’s perspective is perhaps not the best for communicating the nuances of international conflict or its human toll, but the book avoids overtly jingoistic or cartoonish portrayals of battle. Heroism in humans can be a complex concept that requires contextualizing; luckily, heroism in dogs is a much simpler matter. Chips is a war hero readers should have no trouble getting behind.
An exciting novel for young dog lovers.