REVIEW: A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy by Libby Hathorn & Illustrated by Phil Lesnie

Published: 22nd March 2016

Publisher: Lothian Children’s Book, Imprint of Hachette Australia

Pages: 32

Format: Hardback Picture Book – Purchased & Signed by Author

RRP: $24.95

5/5 Stars

A young soldier far away from home, a boy orphaned by war, and the stray dog that brings them together.

A powerful story of the Somme from one of Australia’s most acclaimed children’s authors.

Best selling Australian children’s author Libby Hathorn has teamed up with illustrator Phil Lesnie to produce a one of a kind, beautiful and moving picture book dealing with the ANZACS and the war conditions. Inspired by a photo of a returned Australian Solider who was had successfully smuggled a dog back from war, it offers a unique and honest depiction of the Australian war effort.
A Solider, A Dog and A Boy is a story that appeals to all ages. Set at Flanders on the poppy fields, it’s an image that as Australians we all know very well. What’s more the historical nature of the story, the friendship, love and care, means that readers of all age can share the story of a man, a boy and their dog as they start upon a beautiful friendship in the most unlikely of places.

When a lone soldier comes across a dog in the poppy fields at Flanders one day, he instantly befriends the dog and wants to take him back to his platoon. Envisioning the fun they’ll have together, he tells the dog about his plans and maps out just how well he will be taken care of. But before the pair can head back to camp, a young boy interrupts him insisting that the dog is his. Desperate for company and missing his own furry friends back home, the solider goes as far to offer to pay for the dog, but this boy refuses. In the interest of not spoiling the narrative, I’m not going to say any more on the story itself, except to say that it’s a beautiful little tale that will move you deep within your very soul.

Phile Lesnie has done an outstanding job on the illustrations in this book. His images not only compliment Hathorn’s text, but they develop and expand the narrative that little bit more by visualising the war experience and the extra special bond one has with their furry companions. The size of the illustrations vary throughout the book from full double page spreads (with and without words) to snapshots of a variety of smaller images fading in and out of the page. I particular love the start and end pages which show the lone solider on his walk through the poppy fields at the start of the book. This image really hits home right away where the book is set, and who it is dealing with. Especially when you compare it with the final end pages of a family back in Australia enjoying the firework celebration many years later.

As usual Libby Hathorn has done a superb job with this book. Not only does the story carry an easy rhythm and natural cadence that is so typical of her books, but it’s also historically accurate and carries a sense of emotional weight that hits you right where it hurts most, but leaves you smiling at the books close. By focusing the whole story (which is about a lot more that one dog) on the relationship with the dog Hathorn has made sure the story is able to stay true to it’s honest depiction of the war, while remaining child friendly and easily accessible to its readers. The inclusion of man’s best friend softens some of the more horrifying aspects of war, while still allowing an emotional connection that will leave you staggering. The latter is true particularly for older readers who will pick up on what isn’t quite said in so many words towards the books end. All of which allows the reader to take in more of the war experience then they might first realise.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m just going to say this: A Solider, a Dog and A Boy is my all time favourite ANZAC book released this year. It’s beautifully illustrated by Phil Lesnie, superbly crafted by Libby Hathorn and is just a sight to behold. It’s a book I’ve read probable 3-6 times since purchasing this at the Newcastle Writers Festival back in early April, and it’s a book I know I’ll love for a long time to come.

A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy would make a fantastic addition to any child’s growing library, while also being a honest resource for their educational learning about the ANZAC experience.

I highly recommend this book.


To learn more about Libby Hathorn (author) or Phil Lesnie (Illustrator), visit the following social media sites:

Author Website | Author’s Goodreads | Illustrator’s Website | Illustrator’s Goodreads | Illustrator’s Facebook


To purchase a copy of this picture book, visit the following online retailers:

Booktopia | QBD | Angus & Robertson Bookworld | Boomerang Books | The Nile | Fishpond



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