In August 1945 as World War II was ending Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into North Korea and South Korea. The politics of the evolving rulers were distinctly different. On June 25, 1950 the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel invading South Korea. United States President Truman appealed to the United Nations. They first asked for the invasion to cease. On June 27, 1950 they asked for member states to provide military assistance to the South. (Allan R. Millett, contributor, Korean War, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., July 17, 2017)
United States Marines were sent to fight in a war which lasted for three years. During their service one group made the acquaintance of a red mare, smaller than most horses. Sergeant Reckless: The True Story Of The Little Horse Who Became A Hero (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 12, 2017) written by Patricia McCormick with illustrations by Iacopo Bruno chronicles the remarkable service of this animal.
The small red mare whinnied for her supper.
During combat the desires of a horse are hardly worth noting but the men led by Lieutenant Eric Pedersen were ready to drop. They had been carrying ammunition, large shells, to a cannon at the top of a hill. The cannon was called the "reckless" rifle. Lieutenant Pedersen wondered if this horse was capable of carrying the ammunition.
Having no hay on hand, the horse was inclined to eat everything offered to her. Like all new recruits she would go through training. She was given the rank of Private Reckless. She learned to avoid incoming fire by kneeling and retreating. There wasn't anything she wouldn't do for food. Her trainer Sergeant Latham found she loved chocolate bars. Equipped with a special saddle for the shells (each weighing more than twenty pounds) she learned to carry them to the gun.
Her love of any kind of food earned her the same breakfast as the other Marines, eggs, toast and coffee. She discovered the cook's tent and woke him up every morning. Reckless was still untested in battle until one morning.
Like any normal living being the sound of the cannon firing scared her airborne several times but eventually that horse would carry her load up the hill again and again. Reckless had proved her worth becoming one of the soldiers. Later on March 26, 1953 the Battle of Outpost Vegas, a five-day battle began. On this day the little red mare was a giant among the human members of her unit, distinguishing herself with honor.
With her opening sentences Patricia McCormick introduces readers to the stature of Reckless and her seemingly unimportant place in the scheme of the war. This is a wonderful way to highlight the contrast of her eventual accomplishments and the faith of Lieutenant Pedersen in her capabilities. Slowly she builds, incident by incident, the horse's growing presence with the Marines.
Her research is evident in the accounts of Reckless's training and the food used to reward her specifically an ice-cold Coca-Cola when she first carried shells in her saddle up a hill. McCormick continues with Reckless's relationship with the cook, her behavior during a card game and a tension-filled account of the Battle of Outpost Vegas. Here is a sample passage.
Without a word of urging, she broke into a trot and
then a gallop. The heavy shells banged against her
sides as she hit the steep incline. The first rays of
dawn were lighting the sky as she arrived at the top
of the trail, her flanks heaving.
When first looking at the front of the dust jacket one word comes to mind, respect. The presence of Reckless looking out at readers, carry the ammunition shells with her much deserved honors stretched behind her demands we take notice. The color palette evokes a sense of honor. Spanning both pages the three golden yellow strips cross the spine to the left. Above them on the same royal blue background are two photographs of Reckless with her handler and her Identification Card after she was given the rank of sergeant.
A different hue of the same blue covers the book case. It is designed like a scrapbook cover with an intricate double border. On the front beneath the title is a photograph of Reckless loaded with ammunition climbing up the hill. To the left, on the back, patches, bars and medals awarded to her are shown as if in a display case. The opening endpapers are a collage of newspaper headlines about the war in Korea. On the closing endpapers another collage depicts official documents about Sergeant Reckless with a braid, medals and a patch. Above the text on the title page is a picture of a statue dedicated to Sergeant Reckless.
Rendered in pencil and colored digitally the illustrations by Iacopo Bruno, all spanning two pages with the exception of two single-page pictures, create a genuine portrait of the horse's place with the Marines. As the images cross the gutter they do so flawlessly. The text is cleverly set in an element relative to the scene being depicted; a page in a manual, a sign outside the cook house, a playing card or the inside lid of a first aid kit.
The chosen color palette is suggestive of historical events but still uses full color. The affection the troops felt for Reckless is evident and humor is part of several images as dictated by the text and what we know about Reckless. In the closing illustration as she stands with two Marines in full dress uniforms on either side of her she is leaning to the right ready to nibble the soldier's hat.
One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages. On the left Reckless is in her stall leaning her neck and head out to a Marine on the right. In his right hand is her lead. He stands in full combat gear wearing his helmet. He is kissing Reckless' muzzle as she nuzzles him. We are brought in close to this moment. This illustration captures the extent of the Marines' love of this horse.
Sergeant Reckless: The True Story Of The Little Horse Who Became A Hero written by Patricia McCormick with illustrations by Iacopo Bruno is one of those nonfiction picture books which brings to readers a part of history which serves to illuminate the tie animals can have with humans. This horse risked everything to provide assistance to those men. I highly recommend you place this title on your professional and personal bookshelves. It will promote further research and discussions about the value of animals in our lives.
To learn more about Patricia McCormick and Iacopo Bruno and their other work please follow the links to their websites attached to their names. Iacopo Bruno has two other sites here and here. The publishers have designed an educator's guide for your use.
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy to view the other titles suggested by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.