Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Soldier Bear

Written by Bibi Dumon Tak
Illustrated by Philip Hopman
Tak, Bibi. Soldier Bear. Ill. by Philip Hopman. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2011.  ISBN 9780802853752

Plot Summary
Soldier Bear is the 2012 Batchelder Award winning story of basis on real events during World War II. This is a story about an orphaned bear cub who is suddenly adopted by a group of Polish soldiers. As Voytek grows, he gets himself into a lot of mischief, but the soldiers end up enlisting him as a soldier to allow him to stay with company. Voytek is considered a fellow soldier and friend to the Polish soldiers. In the adventures from Iran to Italy Voytek provides help by carrying bombs and unexpectedly saving the camp from a spy, Voytek shows his importance in the war. This little piece of history is surprising and heartwarming.

Critical Analysis
This is a great historical fiction novel that provides insight into some soldiers lives during WWII. Students might stumble over some words and names like Voytek, but the story as a whole is a nice easy read. Important themes of the story are: not talking anything for granted, love of friends and pets, and family. The soldiers and their animals like Voytek become a family through the story. The detail of Tak's writing allows the reader to envision the settings described. Readers will experience humor, happiness, sadness, and appreciation. There is not a direct connection between the author's culture and the story, but readers will experience some polish culture and interesting pieces of history about WWII.
The subtle pencil illustrations by Philip Hopman add a great visual aspect to the story. They help students make connections to the text. Hopman allows provides a few maps to show the travels of the polish soldiers throughout the book.
The afterword of the book is an excellent addition because it tells of the true facts and story for Voytek, the Soldier Bear. Readers will also enjoy the real life pictures of Voytek during the time period of the story.

Review Excerpts
  • "An afterword featuring archival photographs of the real Voytek closes this uplifting, welcome addition to WWII studies." -Booklist
  • "First published in Holland in 2008, this fictionalized account of one of World War II's happier oddities includes appealing drawing and clear historical maps." -Horn Book
  • "This fictionalized account is an unusual and humorous perspective on wartime experiences." -School Library Journal

  • This book can be a great resource when teaching students about World War II.  
  • Other books about WWII
    • Frank, Anne. Diary of A Young Girl, The. (9780553296983)
    • Zusak, Markus. Book Thief, The. (9780375831003)
    • Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars. (9780395510605)

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