Reviews for Soldier Bear

Booklist Reviews 2011 October #2
Based on a true story, Tak's warm, frank, funny novel follows a cadre of Polish soldiers and an adopted bear from Italy to Iran and back again. Along the way, it exposes a little known facet of WWII and shines a light on a bit of irreverent resilience that blossomed in its shadow. Four friends find the bear as a cub, christen him Voytek, and enroll him as a bona fide soldier in the Polish army. While part of the service, Voytek turns heads, wreaks havoc, boosts morale, and performs his official soldierly duties, including moving live ammunition. In clear, straightforward prose (as translated by Laura Watkinson), Tak offers an engaging story of grown-up protagonists and situations, focusing on Voytek's exploits and his interactions with a menagerie of other animals. Hopman's expressive grease-pencil illustrations add to the story's accessibility, grounding the proceedings with charm. An afterword featuring archival photographs of the real Voytek closes this uplifting, welcome addition to WWII studies. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Spring
In 1941, Polish soldiers escaped to Iran where they joined the British army--and adopted a bear cub who became a functioning member of their group. Tak makes a fascinating tale of the wartime progress of the clever animal. First published in Holland in 2008, this fictionalized account of one of World War II's happier oddities includes appealing drawings and clear historical maps. Copyright 2012 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2011 #6
It really happened: hundreds of Polish soldiers, fleeing the Russians after the German attack on their already divided country in 1941, escaped to Iran. There they joined the British army, were assigned to carrying supplies -- and adopted a bear cub who grew up to become a functioning member of their group. Relying on three books about the bear "Voytek" plus photos provided by London's Sikorski Museum, Tak makes a fascinating tale of the wartime progress of the clever animal as he endeared himself to the tight-knit group of five Poles who adopted him (as well as to a series of their skeptical superior officers). Not only were Voytek's antics a reliable morale booster; he also did real work -- most memorably, passing ammunition at Monte Cassino. The men's amusing banter has the appeal of, say, episodes of M.A.S.H., deepened by touches of war's grimmer realities and the sad fate of a mischievous monkey, also a member of this unusual menage. In 1946, when the men finally went home, Voytek ended up as a favorite at the Edinburgh Zoo. First published in Holland in 2008, this account of one of World War II's happier oddities includes a generosity of appealing drawings plus (cheers!) a clear historical map each time you might wish for one. joanna rudge long Copyright 2011 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 August #2

A bear cub purchased by a pair of Polish free soldiers in the Iranian desert in 1942 becomes a private in the Polish army, a member of the 22nd Transport Company and an active participant in the war in Italy.

Tak bases her novel on actual facts: Wojtek (spelled phonetically as Voytek in Watkinson's translation) was a real Syrian brown bear, really in the Polish Army and really the artillery-carrying subject of his company's emblem. But her humans are fictional characters, a group of five soldiers including Peter, the bear cub's new "mother," Stanislav, who purchases him and figures out how to feed him, and Lolek, who adopts the monkey who eventually becomes his friend. The narrative focuses on the bear's antics, which both enliven the soldiers' lives and cause them difficulty. Originally published in Holland in 2009 as Soldaat Wojtek, this is smoothly translated and engagingly illustrated with sketches and helpful maps. Funny, fresh and heartwarming, it doesn't ignore the horrors of war but concentrates on the joy of having an animal friend, albeit a difficult one.

Readers of any age do not need to know anything about the complicated history of the Polish free forces or even World War II to enjoy this tale of "a friend and a mascot who made the war easier to bear." (Historical fiction. 9 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

School Library Journal Reviews 2011 November

Gr 4-6--Inspired by true events during World War II, Tak tells the story of a bear who served in the Polish army. Despite its serious setting, most of the novel is lighthearted. Voytek is found by soldiers when he is a cub and is officially enlisted as a private, serving as an ammunition carrier and mascot for five years. His innocence and shenanigans bring about an incredible sense of humanity in the soldiers and everyone they meet, causing otherwise gruff, stoic figures to smile and joke. Voytek and the other animals that the company picks up along the way cheer the soldiers up and help them get through the difficulties of war. However, the hardships are mostly discussed in terms of missing friends and family and being far away from home. In one small section of a chapter, a soldier witnesses the deaths of two others and is grief stricken. This is followed by a touching encounter that is shared with the other soldiers, as well as Voytek, which for children will probably be more meaningful than a series of gruesome and abstract battles. In this way, the story is thought-provoking, but not overwhelming. The unit is stationed in the Middle East, transporting supplies and soldiers, so it's a rather different perspective of World War II than most readers are used to. Black-and-white drawings appear throughout the book, which closes with photographs of the real Voytek and his friends. Kids are sure to fall in love with this bear while being gently introduced to war and being touched by the message of peace.--Kerry Roeder, Corlears School, New York City

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