Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak, translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
With the partition of Poland at the beginning of WWII, members of the Polish army were taken prisoner, either by Germany or the USSR, depending what side of the border you were one. Once Germany declared war on the USSR, the Soviets let the Poles go, hoping they'd join the Soviet army. Many fled south, crossed the border into Iran, and joined up with the British.
One group of Polish prisoners making their way to the British found a bear cub. They name him Voytek and he becomes a private in the Polish army, getting into mischief and causing mayhem, but also helping to haul munitions and keeping everyone's spirits up.
It's a fun, light read, despite the horror of war. While the soldiers see some horrible things and are afraid, the book doesn't dwell there. Usually, Voytek does something silly to make everyone (including the reader) feel better. It's very episodic, which is not my cup of tea at all.
It's based on real events, and the back has photos of the real Private Voytek. There is not, however, any end matter explaining a little more about WWII (the politics at play here are complicated, and not all explained in the text) as well as detailing what parts of the story are true and what parts aren't.
It's funny, and I think kids will like it. Voytek is not the only animal in the unit and his antics, as well as those of Kaska the monkey and the various dogs are sure to delight child readers. It's a great WWII story that will appeal to both boy and girl readers and shows a different theater than we usually see in the literature. (North Africa and Italy.)
I think I would have really liked this one as a kid. As an adult, I don't dislike it, but it also didn't do much for me. Probably because of the episodic plot.
Book Provided by... my local library
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