Private Voytek of the transport company of the 2nd Polish Corps of the British Army in World War II turned lots of heads, and made many other soldiers scream in fright.
He was a bear. Yes, a Syrian brown bear. A few Polish soldiers who had escaped Russia into Iran picked him up somewhere in the Middle East on their way to Palestine. They traded a pocketknife, some food and money for him along the road when he was a cub.
And for five years, he was a part of their company, traveling with them from the Middle East to Egypt, to Italy and finally finding a permanent home in Scotland. He helped carry ammunition to the front lines, stole the soldiers’ Christmas dessert (canned peaches), and learned to do handstands for beer or cigarettes.
Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak tells his story, from being a cub to his final home in the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. He got him, and his ‘owners’ into lots of trouble with their friends and commanders, but in the end, everyone loved him. He almost didn’t make it to Italy, but his company stood up for him (and his friends, two dogs and a monkey), and all finally were allowed to board the boat.
Older elementary children will enjoy this bear and his antics, and the way he comforted the people around him in the middle of an awful war. Parents of sensitive children, please note that the soldiers talk some about the gruesome sights of the war (one saw two soldiers blown to bits before his eyes, another found a boot – with a leg still attached). This is really only one short chapter in the book, and it ends with Voytek snuggling with a soldier to comfort him. The soldiers also teach Voytek to drink beer and eat cigarettes – again, not belabored, but mentioned several times in the course of this book.
Recommended for ages 9 and up.