July 16, 2021

Harley the Hero

Written and illustrated by Peggy Collins
Pajama Press
Ages 4-7
32 pp.
June 2021
Most children are drawn to dogs. They want to pat them and hug them, call their names and get close. But service dogs must be treated differently so that they may help their human friends. Harley is one such service dog so he's a hero everyday for his person. But when there's a fire in the school where his person works, Harley proves he's able to share his strength with others when needed.
From Harley the Hero by Peggy Collins
Harley comes to school every day with Ms. Prichard "to help her feel safe so she can be the best teacher she can be." Harley is tethered to Ms. Prichard and the kids know that he is working, even when sleeping, and, though they've been cautioned to not distract him, he can't help but be tempted by feet which he loves to lick. Young Jackson enjoys getting a foot-lick from Harley but his best friend Amelia, a child with sensory processing issues, does not. Amelia, often seen wearing red noise-cancelling headphones, is very sensitive to noises and smells and touch, and Jackson helps protect her. In fact, he generously offers his feet for lick tickles so that Amelia, who wears two pairs of socks and red rubber boots in the classroom, can avoid them.
From Harley the Hero by Peggy Collins
Though they can't show Harley the love they might a non-service dog, Ms. Prichard has set up an Animail box where the kids can send him letters and gifts. (Surprisingly, vegetables often find their way to his Animail box!)

When a fire breaks out in the school, the class knows how to exit safely, but Amelia is thrown off by the sounds and the smells. Alerted by the panicked Jackson, Harley barks and pulls at his leash, discovering the girl cowering beneath the teacher's desk. By licking her boots, the big dog startles her into coming out and joining him and Ms. Prichard to crawl out of the school to safety.

From Harley the Hero by Peggy Collins
Needless to say, Harley is cheered as a hero and offered some well-deserved, though unusual, treats.

As mentioned in Peggy Collins's "Author's Note" and in a brief note from the teacher upon whom the story of Harley is based, Harley the Hero is a very real story. Because of that, Peggy Collins uses it to educate as well as entertain. The issues of individuals with invisible disabilities like PTSD and sensory processing disorder are addressed as are how to deal with service dogs. Not only does Harley the Hero teach about the diversity of disabilities and how some may be imperceptible, until they're not, as well as teaching about fire safety, it also enlightens students about the protocols for service animals in schools, especially as they become more common. But, beyond addressing these important issues, this picture book is simply an engaging story about an amazing dog who does a job and is loved by all. That's it. Peggy Collins highlights this with her cheerful digital illustrations rich in primary colours and diverse characters. Even when scenes are disturbed by the harshness of noise and smoke and fire, the brightness of the golden Harley and the colourfully-clothed Amelia and Ms. Prichard encourage and lift. 

Though school is still a number of weeks away, it will never to be too soon to prepare students and help develop their awareness of those with invisible disabilities, how to engage with service animals and what to do in the event of a fire. With Harley the Hero to assist, teaching and learning just became a whole lot more fun.

From Harley the Hero by Peggy Collins

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