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In 1942, a group of war-weary Polish soldiers, travelling through Iran to Palestine, came across a starving child carrying an equally hungry small bear cub in a sack. After some bartering, the child left with food and money, the soldiers with the orphan cub, even though they weren’t technically allowed to keep pets. Still, the bear, named Wotjek, travelled with them to Palestine and beyond.

Jenny Robertson tells the true story of the bear who captured the hearts and imaginations of not just those fighting in the war, but also of many generations to come. Given a rank and number, Private Wotjek saw action at Monte Cassino, one of the harshest and longest engagements of the Italian Campaign. After the war, he was retired to Edinburgh Zoo, where he lived out his days.

If this were purely fiction, it would be a lovely tale, indeed, but Wotjek the bear is part of the Second World War’s narrative.

He provided hope, friendship, love and laughter to men who believed that they had already witnessed the very worst of humanity when they came to adopt him – and yet they were to experience worse to come.

So important is Wotjek’s positive contribution to war morale, freedom and international solidarity that he is immortalized as a statue in Edinburgh’s majestic Princes Street Gardens.

While Robertson presents an engaging and inspiring story in this book of one little bear who grew up very quickly to become a beer-swilling, 500 lb adult, she also gives us an extremely accessible account of the latter part of the war. And these are stories, truths, which deserve to be told and retold, read and reread, time and time again.

Although the core age group for Wotjek is 9–12 year olds, it’s a great read for anyone, adult or child.

We highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wotjek: War Hero Bear | Jenny Robertson |

BC Books | paperback | £6.99 | 9–12 (any age really)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgements: This review is published as part of the Wotjek book blog tour. Many thanks to Kelly at Love Books Group for organising it and to the publisher for supplying a review copy. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved. Photo: Wotjek as a young cub with his friends, members of the 22nd Transport Company, Artillery Division, Polish 2nd Corp. thechive. Reproduced for publicity purposes only. Jacket image supplied by BC Books.

 

Also of interest:The Soldier’s Home – love in a cold climate‘; Soundings – in search of one father’s war’ (art review); ‘Mary Monro’s Stranger in My Heart‘; ‘Only Remembered edited by Michael Morpurgo’; ‘Steve and FranDan’s awfully big adventure‘; ‘The stark beauty of William Shaw’s Salt Lane‘; ‘Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper –indie publisher, Orenda, does it again‘; ‘Elder’s last stand – John Harvey’s Body and Soul;  ‘We should all be feminists’; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry’; How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original Penguin Ten’; ‘Book covers we love – Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday’.

 

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