Born the runt of a litter to a working dog in the Pilbara, the pup at the centre of this book starts her life with Elsie, daughter of a cattle station boss. It is 1939 and war and drought threaten life as the people who live on the station know it. Before long Elsie and her family evacuate due to the threat of war, and her older brother enlists in the army. Princess is unable to go with her beloved Elsie and is left in the care of Dave, a hardworking and kind stock man. However when tragedy strikes, Princess, now known as Dog, is looked after by the flying doctor. She spends many hours in the air flying with him and his patients, and is loved and cared for by many in various locations throughout Western Australia.
Told from the viewpoint of Princess, or Dog, or one of the other names given to her by various characters, this is not just the story of an intelligent and caring dog. This is also the story life during the Second World War in Western Australia, with threats of enemy bombings and natural disasters. The resilience of the characters is strong, and the way of life during this time, in isolated locations and with limited resources and contact with others, is depicted vividly.
This is a well researched, well written novel for independent readers. Because of its nature, written from the viewpoint of an animal, it is the perfect text when working with inference skills with students. Some specific examples from the book are included below in the activities’ section. It would also make an entertaining and insightful read-aloud for a class of students. A timeline of the period in which the story is set is included at the back of the book, along with further information about historical elements.
This book would suit a range of ages, from newly independent readers to lower secondary age readers who enjoy historical and/or animal stories. I will be promoting this to my Year 7 and 8 readers, and will enjoy hearing what they think of it.
This novel is historical fiction, so naturally it would suit any unit of study looking at Australia during World War 2. There are many aspects depicted of Australia’s policies and way of life during this time. One you may want to focus on is the treatment of minority groups, including Indigenous Australians and people of Chinese descent. Two of the many examples from this book are as follows:
- Read page 86, paragraph 2 to end of paragraph 3, “Humans were different…”
- Page 132, paragraph 8, discusses Lee Wah’s drover mates enlisting, while Lee Wah was unable to due to Austrlaia’s policy at the time: “‘Wrong colour, wrong eyes,’ he spat.”
Inferring meaning from written and visual texts is an important and necessary comprehension strategy for effective readers. The Dog with Seven Names offers many opportunities for this. Here are just two examples that can be highlighted during a read aloud session or a direct lesson.
- Read page 86, paragraph 2. Doc performed “…what he called ‘surgery’ in a sharp-smelling room.” What is this room called? What was Doc doing?
- Lee Wah hid rice and cooked a handful each night. After reading this section on page 119, ask what he puts with the rice to eat it.
“He ate it with sharp-smelling vegetables. Once, I gobbled a piece that fell onto the floor. My mouth tingled and Lee Wah laughed when I ran outside to drink water.”
- Read more about John Flynn here, from The Royal Flying Doctor Service website.
- Research the history of The Royal Flying Doctor in Australia.
- List and locate on a map the locations Dog and Doc fly to. Have small groups in the class research the places, including their history.
- Research the bombing Australia experienced during World War 2. Some online resource suggestions…
- Air raids on Australian Mainland – from the Australian War Memorial website, includes maps and links to further information.
- Bombing of Darwin – Australian War Memorial
- Darwin Air Raids from the Australian War Memorial. Includes links to other resources on the AWM site.
- The Bombing of Darwin from the National Archives of Australia