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Duke - Kirby Larson This is simply a sweet middle-grade story about a boy, Hobie, and his dog, Duke, during a terrible and difficult time in history, notably World War II. It begins in 1944 when Hobie Hanson is a fifth grader and his dad is a pilot flying B24’s for America. Hobie is the head of the household until his dad returns, and he does what he can to be very helpful at home doing chores and taking care of his little sister. The story is handled in such a way, that through the incidents in Hobie’s day to day life, he learns tolerance and not condemnation. He learns to cope with loss and to recognize and fight injustice.

Hobie has a dog, a German Shepherd named Duke, that he has trained well. He loves the dog a lot, and he is his constant companion. He is a comfort to him in the absence of his father, but recently, he has learned of a program in which dogs are recruited to aid soldiers, and many people have encouraged him to enlist Duke in that effort so he, and Duke too, can do their part for the country. He resists because he does not want to lose his dog too. He is lonely. Recently, his best friend has moved away, and he has no idea when his dad will come home.

I can't say enough about the valuable lessons in this book. Without a heavy hand, the author has explored the difficulties faced by kids during the time of World War II, which he captures perfectly, and in the process, he also teaches life lessons to kids of today, using the experiences of Hobie, his friends and his family. The author has done a fantastic job of presenting a story about family values, courage, bravery, sacrifice, loyalty, devotion, love, friendship, compassion and human suffering.

The author has really captured the times accurately, with iceboxes and encyclopedias as the normal accoutrements of a home, a time when there were neighborhood stores and kids had newspaper routes, a time when kids played in school yards and sleep-away camp was not a right of passage. It was a time of less sophisticated technology, a simpler time when things cost a lot less and people were more important than machines.

This is a wonderful story that teaches children how to cope in the face of the most difficult situations. It is about having a positive attitude, always hoping for the best, always looking at the bright side, never dwelling on the darkness. In this short book, Larson gently instructs youngsters on how to deal with the trials that life hands them, with grace and dignity.