The children’s book world has seen powerful stories of hope and resilience during wartime before. Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle (Little, Brown, Nov.) now joins their ranks, as one of the most inspiring tales to emerge from the war in Iraq. The picture book photo-essay describes how an abandoned, abused Iraqi dog trekked more than 70 miles through rugged, wintry terrain to find the U.S. Marine—Major Brian Dennis—who had shown him kindness. The resulting friendship is the kind of happy ending that would, er, make a great book.

Lots of readers already think so. The title hit shelves November 1, and there are already more than 120,000 copies of Nubs in print (including one trip back to press). Nubs and Dennis have been seen The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, Inside Edition, and Good Day New York, and have been featured in People and Reader’s Digest.

Nubs, during a bit of down time
amid media appearances.

But this isn’t the first time Dennis and Nubs have been in the spotlight. Long before the picture book was in the works, Nubs and Dennis made the media rounds in February 2008. National news outlets picked up their story as Nubs was flown (via money raised through a “Save Nubs” campaign) to Dennis’s home in San Diego where the pooch stayed with friends until Dennis ended his tour of duty a month later. In April 2008 Dennis and his heroic four-legged pal landed on the Ellen DeGeneresShow.

Often, such exposure can hurt a book, but Nubs is beating the odds on that front, notes the book’s editor, Nancy Conescu. “People who had heard the story on the news still wanted to know more,” Conescu says. “The book gives them the opportunity to see it in Brian’s own words; the connection between Nubs and Brian is so strong.”

Co-authors Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery initially got in touch with Dennis through his mother, according to Conescu. By the time Little, Brown Books for Young Readers publisher Megan Tingley had acquired the project and it came to Conescu’s desk, it read “Draft 17.” The team was on a quick turnaround and faced such challenges as the uneven quality of the photos used for the book (understandable as they were taken by nonprofessionals).

Major Brian Dennis reading to kids
at Borders in Westbury, N.Y.

The fruit of their labor seems to be striking a chord with fans of all ages. “It’s a really wonderful story of friendship and hope and how one person can make a difference,” Conescu says. “Brian likes to tell the kids he sees at school visits that his story is an example of what someone will do for you after you do something nice for them.” Children across the country continue to send Nubs and Dennis letters; some of the earliest ones they received are excerpted on the book’s endpapers.

Conescu, who spent a good deal of time with Dennis and Nubs on their book tour, marvels at their relationship and how far Nubs has come. “It’s miraculous. Nubs had every reason to hate people and other dogs,” she says. “But he was able to love people. He’s worked really hard with his trainer, who has now trained nine dogs from Iraq, and Nubs is incredibly well behaved. At one point there was a sandwich on a table right in front of him and he ignored it. I’m not sure my own highly domesticated dog could do that!”

Nubs with Major Dennis.

Booksellers have joined the Nubs bandwagon too. Alex Uhl, owner of A Whale of a Tale in Irvine, Calif., hosted Dennis and Nubs for an event on November 10 at the Mission Viejo Library; a sold-out crowd of 400 attended. And Vivian Leal, director of programs at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, Calif., called the book a “flawless, unforgettable picture book” in her store’s most recent newsletter.

Additional marketing efforts for the book include a dedicated Web site and a “Send a Nubs Postcard to a Soldier” campaign with Dennis and Nubs are making select appearances in San Diego, including one at Camp Pendleton. And the pair faces a future that sounds familiar to many military families. Dennis has served three tours of duty in Iraq and one in Bosnia, having returned home just before his book’s publication. He expects to be deployed to Afghanistan next year. In the meantime, Nubs will lap up lots of love from Dennis—and all their new fans and friends.

Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle. Brian Dennis, Mary Nethery, and Kirby Larson. Little, Brown, Nov.