The Littlest Patriots
by L.M. Haynes
Christian Faith Publishing

"…Jerry realized that while he treasured his Purple Heart, it was just metal and ribbon."

Professor Malcolm McDougal must attend an inventor's convention across the country from his home. For the two weeks he will be gone, someone will need to look after Lily, Benji, and Karat—his three dogs. They are his best friends, so he only trusts someone special to keep them. That someone is Jerry, the professor's older brother, recipient of a Purple Heart for injuries sustained during World War II. The medal is Jerry's most valued possession. But when it goes missing during a monthly outing to the local military burial ground, Jerry must decide whether the medal itself or the sacrifice it represents is more important to him. Meanwhile, the three dogs know only that Jerry's treasure is missing, and they must find it. Will Lily's and Benji's puggle tenacity and Karat's golden retriever loyalty help them locate the memento? Will Jerry fully appreciate their small, silent display of patriotism?

Young readers between the ages of five and eight will delight in this book, with its readily understandable message and Haynes' warm-hearted illustrations. These allow the author to exhibit his hobby of and evident talent for drawing. The text explains the significance of the Purple Heart simply, and an accompanying picture shows what the award looks like. Haynes also sheds light on the meaning of the phrase "the Greatest Generation." The plot sensitively discusses the sadness experienced by soldiers whose comrades fell, an unusual subject in a work of juvenile fiction about patriotism. Most such books address only veterans' bravery and heroism in battle, making no mention of any negative emotions they may entertain in the aftermath.

Indeed, most patriotic children's books revolve around the Fourth of July and exuberant celebrations of freedom. The texts of these books also tend to rhyme. In contrast, this one is written in prose and focuses on Veteran's Day, a holiday that Americans often forget, and one that focuses on the somber reality of a veteran's ultimate sacrifice. During Jerry's visit to the cemetery, soldiers fire a rifle salute to mark the occasion, a form of tribute to which few fiction books refer. Although it, too, revolves around the Fourth of July, The Berenstain Bears: God Bless Our Country is another patriotic piece of children's fiction with a similar serious underlying theme of selfless service among members of the armed forces. Haynes' book, however, is even more overtly Christian in tone, closing with the Bible verse John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one's life for one's friends" (NIV).

Nevertheless, the story's deeper message does not make it depressing to read. Haynes adds an endearingly fanciful touch that child dog lovers are sure to enjoy, casting the three canine characters as staunch patriots, and giving the animals facial expressions that reflect their personalities. Lily and Benji appear alert and determined. Karat is sweet-faced and looks caring. Readers will gravitate to these desirable dog traits as they learn that they are also admirable qualities for humans to embody. The human characters appear content and even happy despite past hardships and sorrows, plainly understanding in hindsight their long-term purposes. This book is a gentle and proud homage to the noble men and women who fought and died to protect the land and liberties Haynes and innumerable others prize.

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