Brothers In Arms: A True World War II Story The True Story of Wojtek the Bear and the Soldiers Who Loved Him by Susan Hood and Jamie Green

Hello, Susan Hood! Hello, Jamie Green! Thank you for stopping by Watch. Connect. Read. to discuss Brothers In Arms: A True World War II Story The True Story of Wojtek the Bear and the Soldiers Who Loved Him!

Susan Hood: Hi John! We’re so happy to be here with you!

Thank you for introducing me to Wojtek the Bear. Susan, when did you know you needed to tell this fascinating story?

Susan Hood: Finding Wojtek was pure serendipity. Researching other books (Lifeboat 12, Alias Anna), I’ve spent many months reading about World War II. One memoir mentioned a most unusual soldier: “Private Wojtek, the only official four-legged member of Anders’ Army, is a bear.” I sat up thinking, “What? Can that be true?” A quick search on the internet revealed photographs and news reports about this 500-pound Syrian brown bear who has become a beloved, legendary war hero across Europe. And yet most Americans have never heard of him. I wondered: How much of Wojtek’s legend is true? I knew right then that I wanted to write a nonfiction picture book about this fine, furry fellow.

Jamie, please take us on a tour of the cover.

Jamie Green: The team and I went through a few iterations of the cover before landing on what we have now, but all of them included some variation of Wojtek the bear surrounded by his family: the soldiers who raised him. On the final cover we see a fully-grown Wojtek, his head adorned with a soldier’s cap with the golden Polish eagle badge. He’s showing us a small smile, probably because he’s shoulder-to-shoulder with his friends, Dymitr, Henryk, and Piotr. The men wear matching caps to their bear counterpart, the only difference being that theirs actually look proportionate to their heads compared to Wojtek’s massive fuzzy head! They stand before us, almost as if they’re posing for a photo with a backdrop of the Middle Eastern desert. The idea was to portray how much the men adored Wojtek, and how comfortable the bear was with his human friends.

Susan, please finish the following sentence starters: 

Jamie Green’s illustrations bring so much heart and humor to the story, reflecting Wojtek’s curiosity, mischief, and playfulness. My favorite pages capture the tender moments between this orphaned baby bear and the Polish soldiers, many of whom were war orphans themselves. Both Jamie and I wanted the art and the text to be historically accurate, so we worked with museums and military experts, and used letters, photographs, and memoirs from the soldiers’ families. Jamie did an amazing job getting the hundreds of historical details (faces, uniforms, jeeps, ships, and locations) factually correct.

Wojtek the Bear is quite the character—charming, naughty, irresistible. Every nonfiction author’s dream. I love this quote from the last surviving member of the troop: “We used to say he had a Polish soul. He was very kind…very sociable. He felt as if he were one of the gang.” I love that Wojtek’s real-life adventures speak to a wide age group, from young bear lovers to kids learning about World War II. His story is a child-friendly way for veterans and their descendants to open up about the history of Poland, the Soviet Union, Anders’ Army, and the decisive Monte Cassino battle in Italy that led to the end of the war.

Jamie, please finish the following sentence starters:

Susan Hood’s manuscript for Brothers in Arms provided me with playful imagery, and bestowed upon me a lot of knowledge! When I was presented with the overview of the story I recognized the tale, but did not know much about it. Susan’s manuscript was so well researched and taught me more than any other source I could find on Wojtek. It was fun to illustrate the soldiers that were written about, because I felt like I was getting to know people without even speaking to them. Susan’s writing made me smile on more than a few occasions. I worked hard to illustrate everything as accurately as I could, in order to do the manuscript justice!

The illustrations for Brothers in Arms are intended to feel like memories. I want everyone who picks up Brothers in Arms to feel like they’re recalling a fond friend that they also knew. I did everything I could to make these illustrations feel personal, intimate, and heartfelt. The gentle and playful relationship between the soldiers and Wojtek inspired the way I drew, the way I chose colors, the brushes I used, the shapes I chose. Much like the story of Wojtek the bear, the illustrations were made both with a softness, and a bit of grit.

Thank you, Susan and Jamie! 

Susan Hood is the award-winning author of many books for young readers, including Ada’s Violin; Shaking Things Up; Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team; and Lifeboat 12. She is the recipient of an E. B. White Read Aloud Picture Book Honor, the Christopher Award, the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, the Golden Kite Award, and the Bank Street Flora Stieglitz Straus Award, given annually for “a distinguished work of nonfiction that serves as an inspiration to young people.” 

Jamie Green is a Greenville-based illustrator, professional curious person, and alum of Ringling College of Art + Design. They have a soft spot for bears, but feel thankful they haven't encountered any on their hikes quite yet!


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