CRACKER IS ONE OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY'S MOST VALUABLE WEAPONS:
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.
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.