A Dog of War by Heather Gregson

a dog of war

I wanted to start this review with HEATHER GREGSON MUST DIE! But I feared no one would get that my tongue was in my cheek, sort of, and that big men with guns and probes would show up at my apartment. The reason for the tongue-in-cheek beginning is that Heather Gregson did things to my feels with this book. And I think she should know that.

In the nature of transparency, you should now that this is another book that I got to read before it was even published. It hurt me then, too.

The link and the blurb:

Farm dog, Tierza, is devoted to her human boy, Aaron. Their idyllic life is interrupted when the German Army invades. Forced from their farm, Tierza accompanies her family to the Warsaw ghetto. Together with her boy, they try to live as normal a life as possible under terrible circumstances. For Tierza, all of that ends when her Aaron is taken by German soldiers and forced onto a train. Relentlessly, she follows the train tracks. During her journey, she meets different people and tries her best to aid them any way she can, but she never stays for long. Her love for her boy drives her onward to the end of the tracks and her boy’s fate.

This is a mid grade book, but I think adults would get a lot out of it as well, and a parent should read this WITH their kids to get the most out of it. It’s told from the point of view of the dog, Tierza – and it’s charming. It’s not a talking dog – but I wonder if kids might think that. Tierza responds to people when they speak to her – I can actually see myself talking to my current-cat and long-gone dogs. We speak to them and they listen to us – who is to say how they are responding? The innocence, sweetness and genuine-ness of Tierza is in direct contrast to the horrible ways human beings treat each other, both those who are the aggressors in the war, and those who are just ground down by the war and poverty and desperation. She even teaches people she comes across to stop being such jerks.

As usual, it’s hard to give a review and not spoil stuff. But it’s World War II, I think we know what indignities the Jews were subjected to. It begins with a long march to the ghetto in Warsaw. The city is in shambles, and they force the Jews to go out and clean up the rubble. You can’t write a WWII story involving Jewish people at this time and NOT address atrocities. They are handled gently, but honestly. It goes beyond words sometimes. The really horrible things happen off-page, but the aftermath is understood. Sometimes, Tierza does not understand what she is seeing, but the reader does. And part of your heart sort of dies.

I have often pondered here and elsewhere about what it is that reading does for us, or to us. I have felt changed by books in the past. I have vivid memories of things I read as a kid that taught me lessons. Some of them were subtle. I think Watership Down taught me that just because I’m a human I don’t have the right to inflict my will on the land and smaller creatures around me. Was that a useful lesson? Is compassion towards little things worth learning? Is having these interior realizations, or asking questions that I only ask myself because of the books I read, improvement? What sort of things would a kid reading this ask themselves about history, how we treat others, the nature of war, the unfair treatment of the Jews, the treatment of prisoners of war… What sort of realizations would this kind of book do for a mid-grade reader or the parent reading it along with them? Are these the sorts of things you think it is important to think about? Or you could put in the Pokemon movie for the hundredth time.

Just sayin’.

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