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"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cracker by Cynthia Kadohata

I should probably warn you that this book has convinced my tween we should get a German Shepherd puppy, and I do not see the end of this pestering in sight.

I can’t really blame her. Cracker (short for Firecracker) is a remarkable dog. She’s a loyal German Shepherd, the close companion of Will. When Will’s family moves to an apartment, Cracker can’t live there, and she is given to the government. She is sent to an army base to be trained for use in the Vietnam war.

I didn’t know that dogs were used extensively in Vietman and saved many American soldiers’ lives. This book details the experience from Cracker and Rick, her handler’s, points-of-view.

It killed us to learn that the non-fiction dogs of Vietnam were considered military equipment and left behind. Since then, the military policy has changed and now no war dog is left behind… (the book includes pictures at the end of real soldiers/dogs.)

Don’t worry: this is a young adult book and Cracker does not get left behind, although it is a real tear-jerker when you are led to think she does. She even gets to re-visit her old friend, Willie. (For an adult version of Vietnam war dogs, see : Leaving Jack).

There is a smattering of the minor swear words: hell, damn. One of the Lord’s name in vain, but at least it wasn’t paired with a dam-it. Mild swearing for a war story. Once, soldiers pass pretty Vietnamese girls in their truck and refer to one as “choice.”

There is a realistic description of the Vietman War. Rick kills a soldier close-up, he sits with a soldier who dies in front of him. There is shooting, blood, and a clear description of what it was like. So, while the print/writing would make this a mid-tween book, I’d err on the side of older tween.

I appreciate that the author stayed a away from politics and stuck to the facts about the war. The soldiers were good men, doing their duty. Rick comes back to the States and is called a baby-killer once, and the issue of half the country not supporting the war is brought up but not detailed. The story really is about the experience of dogs and their handlers in the war, not war itself. I thought the book an excellent introduction to the Vietnam War if you happen to be studying it.

Safety Rating: 2 Flags; High-Readability

Historical Fiction: Vietnam War; 1959-1975


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