Welcome to my first children’s book review as part of Love Books Group’s blog tour for Wojtek: War Hero Bear. I was slightly hesitant at first to agree to review a 9-12 aged novel but you got to try everything at least once so here we are. I was compelled by the story that is centred around a bear cub who was raised by polish soldiers in the Second World War. Wojtek was actually enlisted in the Polish Army to be able to receive benefits and became a minor celebrity within the ranks. Thank you to Love Books Group for including me on the tour and please enjoy my review.
Sent To Me By Birlinn Books In Exchange For An Honest Review
01.05.2014 / Birlinn Books / Children’s Historical Fiction / Paperback / 128pp / 978-1780272276
About Wojtek: War Hero Bear
When a tiny orphaned bear cub is adopted by Polish soldiers during World War II, little does anyone know that little Wojtek will become one of the bravest fighters of them all. As the soldiers train to take part in some of the fiercest fighting of the war, Wojtek grows up, providing headaches and laughter in equal measure as he learns to drink beer, chase horses and wrestle with his human friends. But at Monte Cassino, as the Allies try and dislodge German troops from their mountain-top eyrie, Wojtek, now a fully signed-up solider with his own rank and number, comes into his own, dodging the bullets to carry ammunition to his comrades as they inch their way to victory.
After the war, the Polish solders move to Scotland. Wojtek comes too and soon becomes the centre of attention in a new country. But with hostilities ended, how long can he keep his freedom?
Best-selling children’s author Jenny Robertson explores the themes of friendship and trust in this moving and inspirational story.
Jenny Robertson’s children’s novelisation of the very true story of Wojtek, Poland’s War Hero Bear, was a charming and meaningful ode to such a remarkable creature. Wojtek was a symbol of hope, laughter and opportunity to an army who had all but lost hope after their country was invaded and their people imprisoned or sent to fight. The novel follows Piotr Prendyś and the story of his acquisition of a bear cub and how he raised it on the way to the front lines during WW2. The presence of Wojtek was enough of a morale boost for the Polish Army to enlist him as an actual soldier so he can be treated as an equal. Piotr leads a young Wojtek across the middle east and into Europe forever moving towards battle. Wojtek is a source of fun, amusement and mayhem for the soldiers; stealing food and water, play fighting and helping them with equipment. He brings a homesick and lost Piotr out of his head and provides inspiration for soldiers during the biggest fight of their lives.
As I followed Wojtek’s journey I was compelled by this lonely soldier and his bear cub, fighting side by side against all odds and never giving up on each other. This novel is a fundamentally heart-warming and charming novel that suits a 9-12 reading age (the illustrations took me back to my young reading days) but Jenny Robertson doesn’t forget to capture the essence of the raw and unforgiving experience that Poland suffered at the hands of multiple dictators. I don’t remember reading anything like this when I was 9 (too busy with Harry Potter) but there are certainly some harsh themes included here.
Jenny takes the time to touch upon the horrific treatment of Poland’s population and the subsequent horrors that follow. There is not a lot of it but it is potent and tear-jerking which encourages empathy. The details concerning Piotr and Wojtek are very close to the truth which is makes this story all the more impressive. Jenny Robertson has created a narrative that neatly encapsulates what Wojtek meant to the men and woman who served alongside him and his celebrity status amongst many countries. The tone of the novel is more jovial and upbeat (with a Winnie The Pooh vibe at times with all the honey and sweets) but is informative, engaging and appropriate for its target audience.
It is stories like this that must not be forgotten and I applaude Jenny Robertson for bringing a young audience such a vital account of human beings and animals trying to find fun and companionship in such horrendous circumstances. Wojtek: War Hero Bear comes highly recommended from me and I hope to come accross more of Jenny Robertson’s work in the future.
About Jenny Robertson & Tim Archbold
Jenny Robertson has written numerous books for children and adults – fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her children’s novels and Bible stories have been widely translated and also read on Yorkshire Television and STV.
Tim Archbold wrote and illustrated his first children’s book. In 1988 and since then has worked on books for a huge number of publishers, including Bloomsbury, HarperCollins, Macmillan and OUP. His illustrations have also featured in magazines such as Radio Times, Good Housekeeping, BBC Gardener’s World, Good Food and Country Living.