Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam
Kadohata, Cynthia. 2007. CRACKER! THE BEST DOG IN VIETNAM. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 1416906371
2. Plot Summary:
Told against the backdrop of the 1960’s and the Vietnam War, Cracker! is a moving and emotional story of friendship and trust between a man and a dog. Cracker, the German Shepard and Rick Hanski, her handler, travel to Vietnam with the U.S. Army to detect enemies, bombs and traps to secure the safety of the soldiers at war. Rick and Cracker overcome their differences and learn to work together to save many lives and complete several successful missions. The Army has a policy that animals are looked upon as equipment that is to be destroyed when their usefulness has ended…will Cracker make it back to the U.S. alive when their tour of duty is over or will she be yet another casualty of war?
3. Critical Analysis:
Newbery Award winning author Cynthia Kadohata gives us an action packed glimpse into the Vietnam War through the eyes of Cracker, a German Shepard scout dog and her handler, Rick. Kadohata creates a gripping, emotional tale that will cause you to laugh and cry. Told from both the viewpoints of Rick and Cracker, Kadohata provides us with insight from all perspectives of the war. The author keeps the story believable because Cracker thinks and acts like a dog, the reader just gets to hear her thoughts, no one else. “Cracker had no idea what he was saying, but he sure did know how to pet a dog.” Kadohata sets the stage for the gritty reality of the war. “Cracker thumped against the man and heard his gun fire a moment later. She knew just where to sink her teeth: the man’s neck. Once his neck was torn, she swung around and saw Rick pushing himself up. He looked in her eyes for just a half a second, and she could see he was fine. Then he started running, and she ran after him.” Her accurate descriptions of the military maneuvers came from first hand accounts of Dog Handlers and Scout Platoons who served in the war. She provides an Author’s Note and Acknowledgements along with photos of soldiers and their dogs, which gives validity to her work. Readers will be thrilled at the ending and anxious to learn more about these brave soldiers who gave their lives so valiantly.
4. Review Excerpts:
Reviewed in KIRKUS. “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.”
Starred in HORNBOOK. “Without asking too much of her middle-grade readers, Kadohata creates tension and pathos around the bonds between humans and dogs in wartime.”
Starred in BOOKLIST. “The author of Kira-Kira (2004) andWeedflower (2006) tells a stirring, realistic story of America's war in Vietnam, using the alternating viewpoints of an army dog named Cracker and her 17-year-old handler, Rick Hanski, who enlists to "whip the world" and avoid a routine job.”
Other books by Cynthia Kadohata:
KIRA-KIRA. ISBN 0-689-85639-3
WEEDFLOWER ISBN 0-689-86574-0
IN THE HEART OF THE VALLEY OF LOVE ISBN 0-520-20728-9
Paulsen, Gary. WOODSONG. ISBN 0-02-770221-9
Yarborough, Tom. DA NANG DIARY: A FORWARD AIR CONTROLLER’S GUNSIGHT VIEW OF COMBAT IN VIETNAM. ISBN 0-312-98493-6
Burnam, John C. A SOLDIER’S BEST FRIEND: SCOUT DOGS AND THEIR HANDLERS IN THE VIETNAM WAR. ISBN 0-7867-1137-X
*Students can research Scout Dogs and how they are used in War and Peacetime situations.
*Invite a dog trainer/handler to speak to the students and possibly demonstrate dog training techniques.
*Find Vietnam on a map and explore the country and research their culture.
*Research Scout Dog platoons on the internet and read about real dogs who actually served in Vietnam. (EX: http://members.tripod.com/39th_scout_dogs )