‘Rags: Hero Dog of WWI’ by Margot Theis Raven: True story of a dog and a soldier

rags hero dog

Rating: 5 stars

“Rags: Hero Dog of WWI – a True Story” is a beautifully told (Margot Theis Raven) and illustrated (Petra Brown) picture book about a stray dog who gets adopted by a soldier in Paris.

Private James Donovan finds the stray and uses him to outwit the French police when he has no permission to be off base. When he takes the little stray back to base with him, the dog quickly endears himself to the soldiers. Named Rags, for his disheveled appearance, the dog accompanies Donovan to the front and learns to deliver messages and help keep foxholes free from rats.

During a huge battle near the end of the war, both Rags and Donovan are injured. Rags refuses to leave the side of his best friend. When Donovan ends up in a military hospital in Chicago, Rags stays at the firehouse but returns to the hospital each day to be with his friend.

(Spoiler alert) When Donovan dies from his injuries, Rags is bereft. But the author handles the topic beautifully. “His nose read the story of Donovan’s last day. Donovan’s lungs were tired. he was cold. He had gone west for a nap in the sun.” Rags never goes to the hospital again. “He knew Donovan wasn’t there. His best friend now lived in his heart.”

The Epilogue and “The Tail End” give information about what happened to Rags after he lost his friend. That amazing dog who lived by stealing scraps in Paris lived twenty long years and is buried in Silver Spring, Maryland, where his tombstone reads: RAGS, War Hero, 1st Division Mascot WWI, 1916 – 1936.

This picture book will appeal to readers of all ages. Young children will love the story of the brave dog, and older readers will learn about WWI and the horrors of war for both humans and animals. It’s a great jumping-off story for those doing research about WWI or animals in history who have helped humans. With the Common Core emphasis on nonfiction, this is a great way to get readers excited about reading good nonfiction books.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Sleeping Bear Press, for review purposes.