Read this in middle school - not even my choice necessarily, but boy did I love this book. I'm not the type to read action-themed books, or military related subjects, but this was perfect regardless. The connection between the man and his dog, and the ride this book took me on is one that won't be forgotten. I've never cried to a book before this one, it was that surreal. Definitely recommend it, regardless of whether you are interested in the military. Great book overall, glad to get to read it again. Thank you.
Some books the reader opens and drags through a few pages, still uninspired. "Grrr! For I am the all-powerful Cracker!" First sentence in "Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam" hooks older children. This German Shepherd is flipping a dead bird in the air, abandons it when she sees a live mouse! Then Willie calls her and she bounds home.
It's an enticing beginning for children, 9-12, but also suitable to draw in adults who work with children and want to find good books for them or adults who have children and want to know what quality of books they are reading. This "Cracker" is a good one: It was nominated for the Louisiana Young Readers Choice in 2010 for Best Book in the grades 6-8 category, although I find it suitable for mature 4th and 5th grade readers.
It's a simple story to start: Boy wants Dog, Boy finds Dog, Boy must give up Dog. Now what happens to dog placed in the local pound? It's Vietnam time and the army needs military dogs to sniff out hidden landmines, bombs, and Viet Cong. Some dogs are one-man (or -boy) dogs and resist any new owner. However, the young recruit just out of high school is special, though he is told he is not special by his counselor. His brilliant older sister is "a specialist"--Rick is described as a "generalist." It's a label he fights throughout his duty tour in Nam.
He does become Cracker's "owner" by winning her respect. They become as one by the time they are sent to Vietnam, along with the other units in his squad. Rick wants Cracker to be "the best dog in Vietnam." You know in books like this that, if she doesn't become the best dog, then she will one of the best. I'll not spoil it for you.
So, that's a short summary of the story, but it's not the story that sold me on this novel. It is the brilliant talent of the author, Cynthia Kadohata, for her uncanny ability to get into that dog's head and convince the reader that she is truly giving Cracker's thoughts and emotions. The one scene in which Cracker is separated from the unit and is lost in the jungle and seemingly cannot find her way back had me sobbing with her dismay and panic and desperation.
Not only does Kadohata provide insight into the dog but into Rick and the entire concept of training a dog to become one with the handler and then that team with the other soldiers in the unit. I was so amazed at this incredible sense of being right there in the story with men and dogs. It's this kind of rare story telling that must be put into the hands of children to keep them reading. As a librarian for children ages 3-13, I can tell you that reading desire begins to taper about age 11 and practically dies by grade 7. Only a handful of seventh and eighth graders are still interested in reading. Yes, I know, children that age become part of hives and swarm as one unit and exclude all else from their habitation.
Actually, this book is better directed at grades 4 and 5 and maybe 6 instead of 6-8. I think it was placed in 6-8 because of war content. There is a bit of bloody battle carnage, but it's not a Scorcese type of carnage, more Spielburg--mild and tolerable for children.
Frankly, I felt joy in reading this book because of the man/dog relationship and the wonderful sensitivity the writer shows in revealing Cracker's feelings. The thought that continued to run in my mind was how Kadohata was able to make Cracker's feelings so authentic? I didn't find a single thing that Cracker did untrue to the nature of a dog, or, in fact, any details about Vietnam. This is how she did it: hours and hours of interviews, both in person, by email, by telephone, with Vietnam veterans, with dog handlers, both military and civilian, and especially with the handler on whom she based this story. I was duly impressed!
In addition to providing authenticity, her research also revealed this history of military dogs. In wars through Vietnam, dogs were thought of as equipment and just left in that country or given to the native population. Today they are commissioned out of service just like their handlers!
Now, which book won in 2010 for Grades 6-8 in the LYRC? Wouldn't you just know that "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" did!? And that book is read by the younger children, not so much by that middle school crowd. Go figure.
This story is an exciting account of the relationship between a soldier and his dog. Dogs were responsible for saving many a life during the Vietnam war. Unfortunately, the government treated them as poorly as the American public treated the GI. I was able to read this book in just a few sittings. Well worth the time and I recommend it to anyone interested in dogs. Enjoy.
If you love dogs, and especially if you love German Shephers, then this book is for you! It is a very moving book written from the dog's point of view. Yeah I know this sound hoaky, but it really is good. Being a dog lover and especially a German Shepherd lover/owner, I can tell you, the way the author describes what "Cracker" the German Shepherd is thinkings/feeling really seems plausable. The fact is over 11,000 specially trained dogs went to Vietnam to aid our service men during the war, all but 200 of them were left behind, some in their kennels, some tied to trees, post or whatever, and either starved to death or were tortured and killed by the North Vietnamese, who hated these dogs for their role in aiding our men over there. The dog's handlers' pleaded with the Pentagon to allow them to bring the dogs home, but they wouldn't do it... they were expendable and treated like so much discarded equipment. To this day, if you talk to some of the handlers of those dogs, they will break down in tears about the thought of leaving their partner behind. Thousands of military personnel owe their lives to these wonderful, brave and loving dogs, and their reward for this was for all but a handful, starvation, torture and death! It breaks my heart to think about this, and it makes me furious to know that we did this. I love our military, but whoever make the decision to leave those dogs behind, should have been shot! Sorry, back to the book, if you love dogs, get this book, I think you will truly enjoy it.
Dog lovers will revel in this gripping book of a Military War Dog and it's handler. I laughed and cried, both, a multitude of times, while hanging on the edge of my seat the whole time I read the story of Cracker.
This book is on my 6th grade son's Battle Of The Books reading list. We both liked the book. It is well written and captivating. The author did a fine job of providing historical insight into the nature of the Vietnam War and the impact of the war on our nation and those who fought in the war.