Reviews for Cracker! : The Best Dog in Vietnam


Booklist Reviews 2004 January
/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 6-12. Katie Takeshima worships her older sister, Lynn, who knows everything and takes care of Katie while their parents are working long hours in their small Georgia town in the late 1950s. It's Lynn who shows Katie the glittering beauty (kira-kira) of the stars and who prepares Katie for the prejudice she will encounter as one of the few Japanese American kids in their school. But when Katie is 10, Lynn, 14, falls ill, and everything changes. Slowly the roles are reversed; Katie becomes caregiver and does what Lynn has taught her. There's no surprise. It's clear that Lynn will die, and Katie goes through all the stages of grief. The real story is in the small details, never self-consciously "poetic" but tense with family drama. In her first novel for young people, Kadohata stays true to the child's viewpoint in plain, beautiful prose that can barely contain the passionate feelings. Just as heart wrenching as the sisters' story is what Katie knows of her father's struggle, whether it's his backbreaking work in the factory or his love for his family. The quiet words will speak to readers who have lost someone they love--or fear that they could. ((Reviewed January 1 & 15, 2004)) Copyright 2004 Booklist Reviews.

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Booklist Reviews 2007 February #2
/*Starred Review*/ 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. From their training at a base in the U.S, complete with mean sergeant and close buddies, to their stalking the enemy, the heartfelt tale explores the close bond of the scout-dog team, relating how it detects booby traps and mines, finds the enemy, rescues POWs, and returns home to a heroes' welcome. Throughout the struggle, the dog and the teenager care for one another. There's no background on the conflict ("he didn't and couldn't understand what he was doing here in Vietnam"). Rather, the focus is on how Cracker uses her senses to help the team accomplish its goals, and on her physical bond with Rick, who understands Cracker's every movement. Add this to books in the "Core List: The Vietnam War in Youth Fiction" (2006). Also give it to readers who liked Gary Paulsen's Woodsong (1990). ((Reviewed February 15, 2007)) Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2007 Fall
German shepherd Cracker trains with Rick, who's going to Vietnam. Cracker learns to sniff out tripwires, and Rick learns to trust his sometimes rebellious dog. After some simplistic passages from Cracker's point of view, Kadohata digs into Rick's Vietnam experience. Without asking too much of her middle-grade readers, Kadohata creates tension and pathos around the bonds between humans and dogs in wartime. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2004 Fall
Katie Takeshima's first-person voice is compelling and often quietly humorous as she describes her family's move from Iowa to Georgia and her older sister's subsequent struggle with lymphoma. Katie's shrewd descriptions of people make startlingly vivid this novel that captures both the specific experience of being Japanese American in the 1950s and the wider experience of coping with illness and loss. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2007 #2
Cracker is a German shepherd living with her boy, Willie, until Willie has to move and Cracker gets a new job-training with Rick, who's going to Vietnam. Cracker learns to sniff out tripwires and hidden ambushes, and Rick learns to trust his sometimes rebellious dog, slowly gaining her undying devotion. After the two ship out to Vietnam, Rick relates the alternating boredom and terror of life in a war zone, his and Cracker's camaraderie with their squad mates, and their exciting stint working with Special Forces. After some early simplistic passages from the dog's point of view, Kadohata digs into the dog handlers' Vietnam experience with rock-solid details and a canny understanding of the emotions soldiers deal with. Without asking too much of her middle-school readers, Kadohata creates tension and pathos around the bonds between humans and dogs in wartime, spurring on the narrative with uncertainty about Cracker's fate. Those without much familiarity with the Vietnam War will find an easy intro via Rick and Cracker in this emotionally resonant tale. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2004 #2
In this debut novel for young people from adult writer Kadohata (The Floating World), Katie Takeshima's first-person voice is compelling and often quietly humorous as she describes her family's move from Iowa to Georgia and her older sister's subsequent struggle with lymphoma. Katie worships her sister; it was Lynn who taught Katie her first word (kira-kira, Japanese for glittering) and Lynn who "said she would teach me everything in the world I needed to know." But the sisters become less close the year Katie is ten, as fourteen-year-old Lynn starts to grow up; worse, though, is that Lynn starts feeling sick. Katie's shrewd descriptions of people--relatives, friends, strangers--make startlingly vivid this novel that captures both the specific experience of being Japanese American in the 1950s and the wider experience of illness and loss. Like Meg in Lois Lowry's A Summer to Die, Katie is able to see what her family has lost and also what they've gained through her sister's death, leaving readers with a glittering sense of hope. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 2006 December #2
"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) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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Kirkus Reviews 2003 December #2
Katie loves and admires her older sister, Lynn, only to lose her in this story that reads like a memoir about a Japanese-American family in the 1950s. Built around the loss of Lynn to lymphoma, it belongs to Katie and stays true to her perspective. The supporting cast of extended family and friends also fits within Katie's vision of life. Humor keeps the depth of sadness at bay as Katie reports events: "If a robber came to our apartment, I would hit him over the head with a lamp. So I didn't need a bank, personally." Starting out in Iowa, the family moves to Georgia; both parents work long hours in the poultry industry to buy and then pay for a house of their own. Kadohata weaves details of life for a Japanese-American family into the narrative along with Lynn and Katie's gradual acquirement of understanding of the dominant culture around them. The vivid writing and the portrayal of a most loving and honorable father lift this above the norm. "Kira-kira" is Japanese for glittering, and Kadohata's Katie sparkles. (Fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2003 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 January #2
PW starred this Newbery winner, which is set in the 1950s and '60s and is narrated by a first-generation Japanese-American girl, saying, "The family's devotion to one another, and one sister's ability to teach her younger sister to appreciate the `kira-kira,' or glittering, in everyday life make this novel shine." Ages 10-14. (Dec.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 May #3

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.)

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 January #3

The author of Weedflower and Kira-Kira takes readers back to the Vietnam War era in this meticulously researched story about a special friendship that develops between an American soldier and a dog. When 17-year-old Rick Hanski enlists in the army, he intends to "whip the world," but he soon finds out that he can't do it alone. As a dog handler, he relies on Cracker, a sharp-minded German shepherd to protect him from danger and provide him with companionship during his tour of duty in Vietnam. The author builds tension when Rick and Cracker are sent on a mission to rescue two POWs, and again when they are taken by surprise in an ambush attack. Alternating human and canine points of view, Kadohata shows how Rick and Cracker come to trust and depend on each other during times of crisis. Rick's thoughts encapsulate the confusion and growing paranoia of soldiers living in a land where friends and foes are hardly distinguishable. Cracker's perspective represents more basic emotions, though some readers may be troubled by occasional anthropomorphization (e.g., "Cracker didn't think the dog was crazy. He was just protecting his handler. She kind of respected him"). Although the author remains politically neutral in telling her tale, she does acknowledge war protesters' attitudes and deftly conveys the way Rick's own feelings about the war change over time. Offering adventure mixed with stark realism, this novel will leave a lasting impression on readers. Ages 10-up. (Feb.)

[Page 52]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 February #2
Set in the 1950s and '60s, Kadohata's moving first novel is narrated by a first-generation Japanese-American girl who moves with her family from Iowa to Georgia when their "Oriental foods grocery store" goes out of business. There, Katie and her family face hardships, including discrimination (she is ignored by the girls at school, for example), and the harsh conditions at the poultry plant where her mother works ("thugs" make sure workers do not gather so that they cannot organize). Katie's father often sleeps at the hatchery between shifts, and when their babysitter goes away, Katie and her brother must stay in the hot car outside the plant while their mother works. But it's her doting older sister Lynn's struggle with lymphoma that really tests her family. Katie's narrative begins almost as stream-of-consciousness, reflecting a younger child's way of seeing the world. But as she matures through the challenges her family faces, so does the prose. Kadohata movingly captures the family's sustaining love-Lynn and Katie secretly save their treat money for years so they can help their parents buy a house, and when ailing Lynn gets to pick the house, she chooses a sky blue one, because Katie as a "little girl,... had told her [she] wanted our first to be sky blue." The family's devotion to one another, and Lynn's ability to teach Katie to appreciate the "kira-kira," or glittering, in everyday life makes this novel shine. Ages 11-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2005 August
Gr 6-9-Katie Takeshima knows her sister Lynn taught her to say Kira-Kira (S & S, 2004), the Japanese word for glittering or shining. The word is a sharp contrast to the hardships Katie's parents face working in the poultry industry in 1950's Georgia and coping with Lynn's terminal illness. What does shine in Cynthia Kadohata's Newbery-winning novel are the loving relationships between parents, sisters, and younger brother Sam, and the support the Takeshimas find in their small Japanese-American community. Katie recalls difficult times such as the family's move from Iowa and the traumatic day when Sam got caught in an animal trap. She also remembers with great affection Lynn's exceptional abilities and the kooky kindness of her paternal uncle. Katie finds many of these memories recorded in Lynn's diary, and she also recognizes that one of Lynn's legacies is her own ability to see the kira-kira all around her. Elaina Erika Davis narrates with a careful cadence that reflects the ethnic sensibilities of the novel, and her only shortcomings are occasional, unconvincing passages of Japanese-accented dialogue. This novel has the immediacy of an autobiographical account of love and loss and presents insightful glimpses of questionable labor practices and post-World War II discrimination against Japanese-Americans. Most important, it will be meaningful for individual listeners, useful for classroom discussions, and an asset in school and public library collections.-Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2004 March
Gr 6-8-Katie's first word is "kira-kira," the Japanese word for "glittering," and she uses it to describe everything she likes. It was taught to her by her older sister, Lynn, whom Katie worships. Both girls have trouble adjusting when their parents move the family from Iowa to a small town in rural Georgia, where they are among only 31 Japanese-Americans. They seldom see their parents, who have grueling jobs in chicken-processing plants. Then Lynn becomes deathly ill, and Katie is often left to care for her, a difficult and emotionally devastating job. When her sister dies of lymphoma, Katie searches for ways to live up to her legacy and to fulfill the dreams she never had a chance to attain. Told from Katie's point of view and set in the 1950s, this beautifully written story tells of a girl struggling to find her own way in a family torn by illness and horrendous work conditions. Katie's parents can barely afford to pay their daughter's medical bills, yet they refuse to join the growing movement to unionize until after Lynn's death. All of the characters are believable and well developed, especially Katie, who acts as a careful observer of everything that happens in her family, even though there is a lot she doesn't understand. Especially heartbreaking are the weeks leading up to Lynn's death, when Katie is exhausted and frustrated by the demands of her sister's illness, yet willing to do anything to make her happy. Girls will relate to and empathize with the appealing protagonist.-Ashley Larsen, Woodside Library, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2007 July

Gr 5-8-- Cracker, a large German shepherd, is given up by Willie, her young owner, because the landlord says she's too big to live in the family's apartment. She is given to the Army as part of the military canine program to be trained to sniff out bombs, traps, and the enemy during the Vietnam War. Rick Hanski, 17, is headed to Vietnam to "whip the world." Cracker and Rick are paired up, and the two learn to work together finding traps and saving men's lives. The story by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum, 2007) is told from alternating viewpoints--Rick and Cracker--and gives listeners an unconventional look at the war. When Rick and Cracker are separated, listeners feel the urgency as Rick begins a campaign to find his partner. Kimberly Farr does a great job as narrator, giving each character a distinctive voice. A good choice to make students aware of a little-known aspect of military history.--Lisa W. Baker, Chocowinity Middle School, NC

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School Library Journal Reviews 2007 February
Gr 5-8-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 Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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VOYA Reviews 2007 June
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.-Walter Hogan Photos. Appendix. 4Q 4P M J Copyright 2007 Voya Reviews.

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VOYA Reviews 2004 August
Kadohata's touching story of sibling devotion is a glittering tale, as its Japanese title suggests. Set in 1950s rural Georgia, it recounts the story of a Japanese American family struggling against prejudice and exhausting labor at a poultry factory in order to build a rewarding life. Told from the perspective of young Katie from the age of five through twelve years old, the story offers her humorous and innocent observations of her close family and the important life lessons that she learns from her adored older sister, Lynn, who has encouraged Katie to dream and to appreciate everyday things. The inseparable sisters plan to spend their futures always close together; however, everything changes when Lynn gets sick and is diagnosed with lymphoma. The prolonged illness overwhelms the emotionally devastated family. Katie's mother and father become distant and impatient under the weight of the medical bills that threaten their home, and Katie, who had always been cared for by her older sister, must now become the caretaker, causing bitterness, anger, and confusion for the first time Middle school girls will relate to Katie, her heartfelt everyday concerns, and her agony when Lynn dies. In the end, she tries to honor her sister's memory through the valuable lessons that Lynn taught her and by always looking for the glitter, the kira-kira in life. Readers who enjoyed Sis Deans's Everyday and All the Time (Henry Holt, 2003/VOYA October 2003) or The Letters by Kazumi Yumoto (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2002/VOYA October 2002) will appreciate this lyrical story of coping with death.-Eileen Kuhl 4Q 3P M Copyright 2004 Voya Reviews.

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