In Cracker!, Newbery Medal winner Cynthia Kadohata tells the story of a death-defying German shepherd who saved entire platoons during the Vietnam conflict. Cracker's ability to sniff out bombs and enemy troops placed her in dangerous situations that most humans never have to confront. Told from alternating perspectives of the heroic dog and her handler, this unconventional nonfiction book will appeal to a broad audience.
Since winning a Newbery medal for her World War II book, Kira-Kira, Kadohata has ventured into the muddier world, literally and figuratively, of the Vietnam War (the "American War" to the Vietnamese). Cracker-bred as a show dog, raised as a pet and later trained as a booby-trap-sniffing military canine-is a heroic and sympathetic character. Some of the tale is told from the perspectives of her boy owner, Willie, and her partner/trainer, Rick, but the lion's share is from Cracker's vantage point. Farr narrates the piece with patience and perfect diction. Her calm tone is only broken whenever trauma rears its head, and though there is plenty of tension, overall her Cracker keeps a Zen-like innocence and calm throughout (with an occasional shout of "Wiener!" when a favorite training treat is detected). In the same way that Kadohata avoids discussing the reasons for the conflict, Farr's portrayal of Cracker successfully keeps listeners inside the world of a dog's mind, to great effect. Ages 10-up. (Mar.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Gail Krause
Willie, a twelve-year-old boy, moves to an apartment building and must give up his purebred champion German shepherd, Cracker. He tries to pretend that Cracker is going on a vacation and she will return to him but deep down inside he knows he may never see her again. Cracker is taken to the army to be trained as a bomb-sniffing point dog responsible for the lives of the many soldiers who rely on her nose. Rick Hanski, a middle-class high school graduate joins the army to get out of his humdrum life in Minnesota and finds more adventure and danger than he ever expected. What he hadn't expected was to fall in love with Willie's dog, Cracker. He relied on her, trusted her, and put his life on the line for her. When he was wounded and MedEvac-ed from the field, he felt he had abandoned her. He spent days recuperating and writing letters to help find the dog. Cracker had a great memory and instinct for survival. After being separated from Rick, starving and dehydrated, on the verge of dying she believed she would find him once again and made her way across Vietnam back to the original base of deployment where she found Cody, one of Rick's friends. Cody notified Rick that Cracker was returning to the States. Rick wrote to Willie to help him greet Cracker at the airport. Willie understood that Cracker didn't belong to him anymore, but Rick said he could visit Cracker whenever he could. The story is compelling. It definitely brings an understanding of the role our soldiers and dogs played in the Vietnam War to today's children, and to adults who lived through that time, but never fully understood the conditions and dangers our soldiers faced each day.
VOYA - Walter Hogan
When Willie's family is compelled to move to a Chicago apartment where dogs are not allowed, the heartbroken eleven-year-old must give up his young German shepherd, Cracker. It is the 1960s, and the U.S. Army is looking for German shepherds and Labs to be trained for military service in Vietnam. At Fort Benning, Cracker is paired with handler trainee Rick Hanski, who enlisted in the Army straight out of high school, seeking more excitement than he expects to find in his family's hardware store in his small Minnesota hometown. Although Cracker never forgets Willie, she eventually bonds with Rick to form an effective team in an IPSD (Infantry Platoon Scout Dog) unit bound for Vietnam. There Rick and Cracker take point on dangerous jungle missions in which Cracker finds plenty of opportunities to locate deadly Viet Cong booby traps and sniff out enemy ambushes. The story is told from several points of view, human and canine. Scenes contrasting Cracker's feelings and reactions with those of the people around her are especially effective. Kadohata is best known for conveying the Japanese American experience through young female narrators in Newbery Medalist Kira-Kira (Atheneum/S & S, 2004/VOYA August 2004), and Weedflower (2006/VOYA February 2006). Here she chronicles a different sort of collision between Asian and American cultures, centering on a canine who loyally serves her handler, oblivious to the politics of the Vietnam conflict. She creates a good story for dog lovers and military buffs, including photos and factual information about the use of dogs in the Vietnam War.
KLIATT - Pat Dole
To quote the review of the audiobook in KLIATT, September 2007: Willy can no longer keep Cracker (short for Firecracker), his young German shepherd, because his family must move to an apartment. She is given to the Army to be trained as a scout dog for the Vietnam War. Rick Hanski, a 17-year-old looking for a way to escape the family hardware business and "whip the world" by enlisting, is chosen as her handler. The strong-willed, confident Cracker proves to be a challenge to Rick, who is learning the necessary battle skills along with her, but in time their bond becomes powerful. After tough basic training they are flown overseas, where Cracker has ample opportunity to prove her worth by detecting Vietcong booby traps, scenting the enemy, and protecting Rick and the soldiers following them. Exceptionally vivid writing authoritatively portrays the jungles, villages, rice paddies, weather, and the daily perils faced by the American troops. Characterization is strong throughout, especially when the author imagines Cracker's thoughts and feelings. This exciting, moving book is much more than just a great dog story. But if you love dogs, prepare to be appalled by the way the dogs were treated as disposable military property. An author's afterword is included. Reviewer: Pat Dole
School Library Journal
Bred as a show dog, Magnificent Dawn of Venus von Braun was a German shepherd destined for greatness until a broken leg took her out of contention and into the arms of a boy named Willie. Reminded of the landlord's no-pet policy, the heartbroken boy answers a newspaper ad and Venus, now "Cracker," is accepted into a military canine unit to help soldiers sniff out booby traps in Vietnam. She and her handler, Rick Hanski, quickly bond and head to the front lines. Cracker and Rick's successful missions lead to more dangerous operations and they are ultimately separated during a siege. Critically wounded, Rick is sent home, not knowing what has become of Cracker, and it is a heart-wrenching wait for word on her whereabouts. Kadohata shifts point of view from Willie to Cracker and Rick. While the dog's thoughts and feelings supply the crucial visceral elements associated with her job and her relationship to Willie and Rick, she competes with Rick for top billing as main character. Willie is the story's casualty, as he realizes that Cracker now belongs to Rick. Divided reader empathy aside, the story is filled with action and accurately re-creates the experience of the military canine program, from aspects of training to the battlefield. It's likely to spark readers' interest in this little-known area of military history.
Vicki ReutterCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"But she and Rick had . . . something bigger. She wasn't sure what it was. All she knew was that when he came to her in the morning, she had no choice but to twirl around and chase her tail before sitting down in front of him." Cracker is a German shepherd, owned by the US Army, who sniffs out booby traps in Vietnam with her handler, Rick. Kadohata has deftly intertwined a classic dog story with that of a soldier's by writing from both points of view, remarkably well, though her talents with realistic voice and immediacy of setting that garnered her the Newbery Medal are put to the test here. Rick's colloquialisms are essential to his character, but sometimes fall flat on the page: "The more Rick trained, the more he started to feel that Cracker was kind of like reading his mind or something." The narrative is slow to engage, starting with Cracker's previous owner, and plenty of saccharine. There's not much information on the war, nor do Rick's internal dilemmas reach beyond the surface. Despite thin spots, the story succeeds on the strength of its characters, their struggles and their relationship, reaching a readership that doesn't get enough quality writing in this genre. (Fiction. 9-13)