Tucky Jo and Little Heart

illus. by Patricia Polacco. 48p. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481415873.
Gr 2–4—In Polacco's latest picture book based on true events, Johnnie Wallen is only 15 years old when he leaves his backwoods Kentucky home to join the army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In spite of his youth, Johnnie's accuracy with a rifle earns him the respect of the other soldiers and many dangerous missions. Arriving with his unit in the Philippines, he is tired of fighting and of the hot, steamy jungle. He happens upon a little Filipino girl who shows him how to soothe his bug bites using local plants. Unable to pronounce "Kentucky Johnnie," she calls him "Tucky Jo." He calls her Little Heart, after the birthmark on her arm. In time, Johnnie meets the villagers and his fellow soldiers share their rations with them. When the soldiers receive news that the area is to be firebombed, Johnnie sees to it that the villagers are evacuated when the troops leave. After World War II ends, Johnnie marries his childhood sweetheart. Sixty-five years later, he is patriarch to a large family but his health is failing. In an amazing—yet true—turn of events, he is found by Little Heart. Now a nurse, she happily repays Tucky Jo's kindness. Polacco echoes her main character's Kentucky dialect in the longish text, making the book more suitable for reading aloud to younger children. Spreads done in her signature style with colored pencils and markers portray the weary determination of the soldiers, Little Heart's emotions, and wartime conditions. The final reunion picture is poignant and memorable.
VERDICT This beautifully crafted work is a testament to human kindness.

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