From School Library Journal
Grade 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
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*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). Hazel Rochman
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