Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam is a unique novel told in alternating viewpoints- Cracker, the german shepherd and her handler, Rick.
The story begins with Willie, a young boy who is forced to give up his dog when his father loses his job and the family must move to a small apartment. Willie is brave enough to give Cracker to the United States military where she will be trained to sniff out booby traps in Vietnam. At Fort Benning, Cracker is paired up with Rick, a seventeen-year old private. Cracker is a stubborn dog and makes Rick earn her respect, but once he does they are an unstoppable team. Cracker loves her new job and Rick is convinced she will be “the best dog in Vietnam”. Together they train for survival in Vietnam. Once the two ship out, they are involved in a secret mission with special forces, a few routine missions, and a battle with the Vietcong that left me in tears.
This is a very powerful book, and very appropriate for the times we live in. The story is set during the Vietnam War, so there is definitely some violence. However, none of it is gratuitous and it is appropriate to the story being told. The alternating viewpoints were a great narrative device: anyone who has ever wondered what a dog is thinking will love the story told through Cracker’s eyes. The novel is also a great way for a new generation to learn about the Vietnam War and it’s effects.
I shed more than a few tears over this story. I was attached to Cracker within the first few pages, and I felt the fear and terror that Rick experienced during his tour in Vietnam. The topic of military dogs was unfamiliar to me and I enjoyed learning about our country’s use of the dogs’ intelligence and natural instincts to save many lives in Vietnam. I would recommend this novel to my 6th graders- specifically dog lovers and those who enjoy war books. I also see this in the running for the Scott O’Dell Award, and maybe even the Newbery.