NONFICTION

Brothers in Arms: A True World War II Story of Wojtek the Bear and the Soldiers Who Loved Him

HarperCollins. Oct. 2022. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063064768.
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K-Gr 4–Wojtek was a Serbian bear who enlisted in the Polish army during World War II and became a symbol of resilience throughout Europe. This inspiring true story explores the realities of war by focusing on the tale of a bear and the soldiers who cared for him, presenting a complicated piece of world history in this accessible, child-centered volume. Polish citizens who had been sent to Siberian slave labor camps by the Soviets early in the war were released to fight Hitler’s troops. As they traveled to Allied training and civilian camps in modern-day Iran, an orphaned bear cub was adopted and raised by Polish soldiers. As Wojtek grew, he engaged in mischief like pulling underwear off a clothesline and using a month’s water supply to cool off in the desert heat. He also made himself useful by capturing an enemy spy and carrying heavy supplies. Perhaps his most important role was helping the soldiers who had endured numerous traumas to heal. He slept cuddled up to a man separated from his family, and played with teenaged soldiers who had lost their childhoods. The tales of Wojtek’s antics will amuse; the accounts of healing and heartbreak will help young readers to empathize and learn about the world. The story is presented in clear chronological order, with dated headings to track the passage of time. Numerous nonfiction features enhance the text: photographs, author’s notes, pronunciation guides, a time line, maps, and source notes support the narrative. The writing is accessible for readers, perfectly paired with charming illustrations full of humor and pathos. Recommend to animal lovers and history buffs.
VERDICT The story of one clever bear brings home the heartbreak of war and the hope of healing. Recommended for first purchase.

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