A bear cub purchased by a pair of Polish free soldiers in the Iranian desert in 1942 becomes a private in the Polish army, a member of the 22nd Transport Company and an active participant in the war in Italy.
Tak bases her novel on actual facts: Wojtek (spelled phonetically as Voytek in Watkinson's translation) was a real Syrian brown bear, really in the Polish Army and really the artillery-carrying subject of his company's emblem. But her humans are fictional characters, a group of five soldiers including Peter, the bear cub's new "mother," Stanislav, who purchases him and figures out how to feed him, and Lolek, who adopts the monkey who eventually becomes his friend. The narrative focuses on the bear's antics, which both enliven the soldiers’ lives and cause them difficulty. Originally published in Holland in 2009 as Soldaat Wojtek, this is smoothly translated and engagingly illustrated with sketches and helpful maps. Funny, fresh and heartwarming, it doesn't ignore the horrors of war but concentrates on the joy of having an animal friend, albeit a difficult one.Readers of any age do not need to know anything about the complicated history of the Polish free forces or even World War II to enjoy this tale of “a friend and a mascot who made the war easier to bear.” (Historical fiction. 9 & up)