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A Librarian Takes on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read A Book About War, Task 4

12 Apr

I am now one sixth of the way through the Book Riot Reader Harder Challenge! In the first post I wrote about trying and failing to stick to previous years’ Read Harder Challenges, and hope I can maintain this momentum! (Read more about the books I’ve read so far for the challenge here.)

For Task 4 I decided to read a book about war. The book I chose is called Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes by Maria Goodavage. I purchased the book a few years ago after seeing the author interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. The cover played a role in my decision to purchase the book as well. Isn’t the dog wearing goggles (proper name: “doggles”) the cutest?!

Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes, by Maria Goodavage

soldier-dogs

The most fascinating thing I learned from this book is that dogs are seen by the Department of Defense as equipment–their exact designation is military working dogs, or MWDs. The dogs are given names, which include a special code with a letter and numbers to denote the year their training started that is tattooed inside their ears. If you are a pet owner, I am sure you see your dog as a part of your family and not an object. I have never owned a dog, but my fourteen year old dog-niece Molly is very important to me.

I also learned that dogs have a long history of serving alongside soldiers in war, going back to the Revolutionary War. During World War II people were volunteering their pet dogs to serve. The preserved body of a dog that served in World War I named Captain Stubby is part of the collection at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

MWDs now have a higher profile as a Belgian Malinois named Cairo is rumored to have played in role in the SEAL Team 6 mission in Pakistan to take down Osama Bin Laden in May 2011, and many families are eager to adopt these hero dogs after they retire from military service.

Goodavage wrote about her own dog, Jake, as she interacted with the soldier dogs (and their human handlers) during her research process. She imagined how Jake would perform in the various tests the dogs are subjected to in training, such as determining their temperament in stressful situations, their responses to loud noises such as explosives and gunfire, and how well they respond to commands when working off-leash.

I thought about how Molly would respond in these situations. As Molly is spooked by vacuum cleaners and loud trucks and occasionally her three human sisters, I don’t see her performing well in combat situations. Molly’s main interests in life are resting in the sunshine, eating cheeseburgers, and having her belly rubbed.

molly-2

This is Molly posing with Santa Claus, as part of an adorable fundraiser held each year by the Liberty Humane Society in Jersey City.

This book was pretty good overall, but I found the sections about dog training and dog breeding sort of boring. I don’t have a personal interest in these topics, but those that have experience training a dog and/or the science of animal husbandry may get more out of those chapters.

What I was most interested in was reading about the dogs. My favorite soldier dog in the book was a Jack Russell named Lars J274, an unlikely bomb sniffing dog. Large, imposing dogs like Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds are preferred for bomb sniffing, but due to a mix-up Lars was trained in this field. His small size and large personality make him a great fit for sniffing for bombs in submarines, which is his main job. This book has two full color photo inserts so readers can see Lars in action, as well as many of the dogs featured in the book. You can see some of these photos, including Lars, in The Daily Show clip, too.

Soldier Dogs is a book about war, so there are definitely heavy parts. I mostly cried while reading the fourth part of the book, titled “Dogs and Their Soldiers”, which detailed the intense bonds between the dogs and their handlers formed in battle. (To be honest, recalling this part of the book to write this post is bringing tears to my eyes.) One dog stood watch all night while his handler slept in a ditch while on patrol in Afghanistan. When one handler was killed, his dog was listed in his obituary as a family member. Sadly, some dogs featured in the book died in combat or of illness.

Another interesting fact is that these dogs are not eligible for official Purple Hearts, which is a policy I think should change given how much training the dogs undergo before going to war, not to mention their experiences in combat that can leave them permanently injured and, in some cases, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). See this article from the American Kennel Club to learn more about this topic. The United States War Dogs Association works to raise awareness and acknowledge military dogs.

If you are either a dog lover or interested in military history (or both!) I would recommend this book. Do be prepared for the tough sections, though.

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

A Librarian Takes on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read A Book About Sports, Task 2

29 Mar

I am excited to report that I am still following the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge! Here I will document the second task I have completed. You can read about what I read for the first task here.

The task at the top of the Read Harder Challenge list is “Read a book about sports.” I was excited to take that one on, as I love good sports writing. I’ve written about the World Champion 1986 New York Mets, and my love for the team, on this blog.

(Yes, I prophesied in that post the Mets would win the World Series in 2016, which didn’t happen. There’s always next year! Baseball season starts again Sunday April 2.)

I planned to read a book about soccer for this particular task. Then I came across Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team that Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory by Lydia Reeder. The jacket copy describes this book as “The Boys in the Boat meets A League of Their Own…”, one of my all-time favorite movies, and the soccer book fell out of favor.

Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team That Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory, by Lydia Reeder

dust-bowl-girls

 

Dust Bowl Girls is about the Oklahoma Presbyterian College Cardinals girl’s basketball team and their Cinderella 1931-1932 season. The author of the book, Lydia Reeder, is the grandniece of the team’s coach, Sam Babb, and committed the team’s fascinating story to print using interviews with the surviving Cardinals or their descendants and friends, the athletes’ personal scrapbooks where they kept newspaper clippings and other souvenirs, and other sources.

Coach Babb recruited high school girls, many from farms in rural Oklahoma, to play for the OPC Cardinals basketball team with offers of full scholarships. These were amazing opportunities for the girls, as Oklahoma farmers were hit hard by the Great Depression and their families couldn’t afford to send them to college. It was also a tough choice for some of the girls, whose lives were centered around the farm and hadn’t spent much time away from their families.

The stories of the individual Cardinals were interesting to read. Lucille Thurman was 16 when she joined the team and often felt out of her league. Doll Harris was the team captain and a talented basketball player despite her five feet four inch stature. Lera and Vera Dunford were six feet tall, red-haired identical twins and always together. Juanita Park, who went by “Bo-Peep”, served the team as a guard and a driver–her father taught her to drive at age 11.

Dust Bowl Girls is enriched by the history of Oklahoma; depictions of life on a farm; the Great Depression and its impact on the state; and the Native American populations that live in Oklahoma. Durant, where the team was based, is the capital of the Choctaw nation.

I learned a lot about the evolution of basketball, which was a young game in 1931. The matchups were six-on-six, the ball could only be dribbled once and below the knees, and players were fixed to certain sections of the court. It was so different from how I learned to play basketball at the Bayonne PAL, and how basketball is played now.

The book documents the outrage about girls playing basketball, which was seen as a less feminine sport at the time. Some believed that a woman’s uterus would simply fall out of her body as a result of too much jumping. La Homa Lassiter, a member of the Cardinals, asked Coach Babb if playing basketball will make her less of a lady.

The chapters depicting the Cardinals at play are riveting to read, although it can be a little confusing to visualize the game play as the 1930s basketball rules are so different. Reeder captures the tension on the court when the Cardinals are down, and the joy when they win. The Cardinals faced a team that included Babe Didrickson, the most famous female athlete of that time, which were exciting games.

I enjoyed following the Cardinals season, its ups and downs, and learning about these amazing athletes. Seeing how basketball has evolved was fascinating, too. Baseball still has my heart, but I learned so much about basketball in this book.

This completes the second task of my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. My post about he third task will be up soon.

What is your favorite book about sports? Let me know in the comments.

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

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