Cracker! : The Best Dog in Vietnam
by Cynthia Kadohata


a German shepherd trained to sniff out bombs, traps, and the enemy. The fate of entire platoons rests on her keen sense of smell. She's a Big Deal, and she likes it that way.  Read more...

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More About Cracker! by Cynthia Kadohata

a German shepherd trained to sniff out bombs, traps, and the enemy. The fate of entire platoons rests on her keen sense of smell. She's a Big Deal, and she likes it that way. Sometimes Cracker remembers when she was younger, and her previous owner would feed her hot dogs and let her sleep in his bed. That was nice, too.

Rick Hanski is headed to Vietnam. There, he's going to whip the world and prove to his family and his sergeant -- and everyone else who didn't think he was cut out for war -- wrong. But sometimes Rick can't help but wonder that maybe everyone else is right. Maybe he should have just stayed at home and worked in his dad's hardware store.

When Cracker is paired with Rick, she isn't so sure about this new owner. He's going to have to prove himself to her before she's going to prove herself to him. They need to be friends before they can be a team, and they have to be a team if they want to get home alive.

Told in part through the uncanny point of view of a German shepherd, Cracker is an action-packed glimpse into the Vietnam War as seen through the eyes of a dog and her handler. It's an utterly unique powerhouse of a book by the Newbery Medal-winning author of Kira-Kira.

  • ISBN-13: 9781416906377
  • ISBN-10: 1416906371
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publish Date: February 2007
  • Page Count: 312
  • Reading Level: Ages 10-14
  • Dimensions: 8.34 x 6.34 x 1.18 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.86 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Juvenile Fiction > Animals - Dogs
Books > Juvenile Fiction > Historical - Military & Wars
Books > Juvenile Fiction > Social Themes - Friendship

BookPage Reviews

'Kira-Kira' author shares the story of a soldier's best friend

Cynthia Kadohata's last two books—2005 Newbery Award-winner Kira-Kira and Weedflower—explore the experiences of Japanese families trying to build happy lives in America. The stories' protagonists are observant young girls who, even as they play children's games and wonder at the behavior of the adults around them, are able to discern the joy and beauty found in strong family bonds.

Kadohata's new book for young readers, Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam is as moving, humorous and interesting as her previous young adult novels. But this time around, the observant, clever narrator is a bit different: It's a dog. A dog named Cracker, to be precise—a female German shepherd sent to Vietnam to serve as a scout dog during the war.

The author says she's long been trying to sell a dog book to her editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy. "I sent her a dog-from-another-

planet idea. I spent all this time on it, but it didn't thrill her. So I kept looking for dog topics. When I sent her the idea for Cracker! she bought the book on the basis of just that e-mail," Kadohata explains from her California home, with her baby son, Sam, in her lap and her "other baby"—her Doberman, Shika Kojika—lying by her side.

A lifelong love for and fascination with dogs fed the author's desire to write a dog-centric book. In fact, she laughingly says, dog-related childhood drama may well have been a contributing factor: "When my sister and I were young, my mother would let us get a dog. We'd fall madly in love with it, and she'd decide we weren't taking good enough care of it and get rid of it. This happened five times, and I'd be just hysterical every time the dog was gone."

In fact, she adds, "when my ex-husband and I first got a dog, he said it was like a nuclear explosion—all that stuff from childhood coming back." Today, the author has in Shika Kojika a devoted companion ("my dog is always with me," she says) and in Cracker! a unique, compelling story that will captivate and educate readers.

The background of the story—thousands of dogs were sent to Vietnam during the war to serve as scouts (German shepherds) and trackers (Labrador retrievers)—may well be unfamiliar to many readers. But the real-life details about the dogs, gleaned from the personal stories Kadohata heard from Vietnam veterans, quickly bring the past to life.

"The dog handlers I spoke with were really enthusiastic about the book for that very reason—that people don't know this went on—and very passionate about their dogs," Kadohata says. In fact, many of the men have difficulty talking about their dogs even today because, of the 5,000 dogs that went to Vietnam, none returned.

And why didn't thousands of hard-working dogs make it back to America? "Because the dogs were considered military equipment," the author says, "and they were put down. Some of the handlers are still angry because they thought it was unnecessary—a lot of them would have been willing to pay to transport their dogs home."

Cracker! not only pays tribute to the dogs who worked to serve their country, but to the owners who shared their pets and the trainers who became devoted, dedicated partners to the animals. The characters are complex and fully realized, making for an engrossing reading experience. Cracker! often is suspenseful, too; there are several scenes that can only be described as action sequences (and yes, nail-biting will likely ensue).

Initially, though, the human characters in the novel weren't quite ready for prime time: "When I handed in the first draft, my editor said the dog character was more fully developed than the human characters!" Kadohata recalls.

It's just that sort of from-the-hip feedback that the author welcomes from her editor, Dlouhy, who she says is one of her closest friends—and the person who first suggested she write a children's book. (Previously, Kadohata published two adult novels.) "It's a good partnership," she says, "and she always just tells me, 'If you'd done what I told you in the first place. . . .' "

Friendship is also at the heart of Kadohata's novel. The friendship between the German shepherd and her owner, 11-year-old Willie, and the bond forged between the dog and her trainer, 17-year-old Rick, are powerful examples of the ways in which twosomes can be strong and productive, loving and even life-saving. It's a heartening message, especially in our uncertain times, and it offers yet another way we can learn from our country's wartime past.

Linda M. Castellitto writes from North Carolina.

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