Peter Millett (text) Trish Bowles (illus.) The Anzac Puppy Scholastic (NZ), 1 March 2015, 32pp. NZ$19.50 A$17.99 pbk ISBN 9781775430971 SCIS 1651150
The Anzac Puppy is a book set during the Great War of 1914-1918 and tells the story of a young soldier, Sam, and his relationship with Freda the faithful dog and war mascot. This book is inspired by the true story of a Great Dane called Freda who became the official mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade during WWI.
Exploring the role animals played in war days has become a popular way for authors to tell war stories, especially when it comes to children’s books. Depicting something children can relate to provides a gentle context for them to learn about war. Animal stories also have historical importance as we often think about the human experience of war and forget that animals were involved.
Millett keeps Sam and Freda at the centre of the narrative and weaves the war story around them, touching lightly on the horror and suffering of the war whilst maintaining focus on the dog-human relationship.
Freda is Sam’s symbol of hope and she brings him comfort and love as he spends years away from his family in terrifying and uncertain conditions. Throughout the narrative Freda also becomes a symbol of hope for the reader, we focus on her journey which gets us through the underlying darkness of the narrative.
The language is simple, constructed through short sentences that are complimented by Bowles soft illustrations. Bowles uses shades of light and dark throughout the book to show the contrast between the good times and the bad.
A fact sheet is included at the back of the picture book telling the real story of Freda and how she became such an important part of the soldier’s lives during the war. Freda’s memory is marked by a gravestone in Staffordshire, England where she was buried; and her collar is on display in the museum at Waiouru, New Zealand.
The Anzac Puppy on the surface is a sweet story with a happy ending. However, digging deeper it is also a story that offers an interesting insight into the experience of war.
reviewed by Maria H Alessandrino