“Soldier Bear” is an entertaining but curious amalgam of fiction and history.  Set mostly during World War 2, “Soldier Bear” follows a group of Polish soldiers, displaced by the Nazi invasion of their homeland, and their animal mascot, Voytek the bear.

This book is billed as fiction, but draws on an actual historical event.  The author includes photos of Voytek and some of human and animal friends.  As an adult, the choice to call this fiction made me wonder—how much is true?  What exactly caused it to be labeled fiction?

I suspect, though, that a typical student reader would have few of these qualms.  The book provides some good insights into what life is like for soldiers in general and for these soldiers in this era in particular.  The story is highly engaging—Voytek is quite a lively character, and his Polish friends are clearly devoted to him.  Voytek becomes an important symbol to the men—he is made an official Polish soldier, and his image is embossed on their troop badge.

I do wonder what sort of children would be drawn to this book.  I’m not sure that it would have the broad appeal of most “animal” books.  Because Voytek is taught to drink beer and eat lighted cigarettes, I can hear the animal lovers reacting with outrage.  More likely readers would be students who are interested in reading about soldiers and war.  Such readers would learn about both the boredom and the brutality of war.

Cross-posted at Camp Read-A-Lot