Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak

Based on a true story, this kids' novel relates the friendship between a platoon of Polish soldiers during World War II and a young brown bear they rescue and raise.

While at heart it's a cute animal story, this book's not for younger readers - the depictions of war are toned down, but they're still true to life. In one scene the soldiers open up about the horrors they've seen: boys blown to smithereens right before them, boots with the leg still in them, etc. It's appropriate, but still gory. Our library's copy is cataloged in the preteen section for middle school readers.

Voytek the bear wreaks havok on their camps, but also protects the soldiers from invaders. He's a mascot for the group, but also helps load ammunitions and supplies with the transport team. And for a group of men far from home and separated from all they love, he growing bear is a heart-warming friend and companion.

I enjoyed the balanced depiction of the hardships of war and the friendship and camaraderie of the group. The zoo they accumulate through their travels (in addition to the bear, there's a monkey, dogs, and a parrot) seems unlikely and unruly - but really did happen. How they managed to get away with it is amazing.

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