Polacco shares the story of a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific as a very young man.
According to the author’s note, her intention was to “tell it as nearly as I can in his own words.” Assuming she succeeded, Johnnie Wallen was a thoughtful and eloquent individual whose words convey the horrors of war while also offering glimpses of humanity and hope. Inspired to join the Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the “Kentucky Kid,” as he was known, was initially teased for his youth but gained the respect of his comrades for his marksmanship and skill with explosives. The colloquial, conversational text skims over the many battles in which Wallen’s infantry unit was involved to focus on Johnnie’s redemptive connection to an emotionally fragile young Filipino girl. Little Heart’s difficult experiences are delicately depicted, allowing young readers to see clearly the impact of war on children and families. In an unlikely, heartwarming (and true) twist, Little Heart eventually finds a way to repay “Tucky Jo” for his help and care. Polacco’s illustrations, created with colored pencil and marker, effectively reflect the action and illuminate the emotions of major and minor players without explicit violence or mawkish sentimentality.
Once again, this talented author/illustrator brings the past to life for young listeners and introduces them to unforgettable, admirable characters in the process. (Picture book. 7-10)