Sergeant Reckless by Patricia McCormick

Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero

Patricia McCormick, Author

Jacopo Bruno, Illustrations

Balzer + Bray, Historical Fiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes: Horse, Korean War, Animal war hero, Marines

Opening: The small red mare whinnied for her supper.. But Korea was at war. Towns were shattered. Fields were scorched. And the racetrack was abandoned. No one paid attention to the hungry little horse.


The inspiring true story of Reckless, the brave little horse who became a Marine.

When a group of US Marines fighting in the Korean War found a bedraggled mare, they wondered if she could be trained to as a packhorse. They had no idea that the skinny, underfed horse had one of the biggest and bravest hearts they’d ever known. And one of the biggest appetites!

Soon Reckless showed herself more than willing to carry ammunition too heavy for the soldiers to haul. As cannons thundered and shells flew through the air, she marched into battle—again and again—becoming the only animal ever to officially hold military rank—becoming Sgt. Reckless—and receive two Purple Hearts.

Why I like this book:

Patricia McCormick’s engaging picture book about a hungry little mare adopted by a group of Marines, will win the hearts of both horse and animals lovers, and historians. There aren’t many books written about the Korean War, which will add another layer of intrigue and interest. Reckless saved thousands of lives as she made 51 trips and carried 9,000 pounds of heavy ammunition up the hill into battle while shells rained down around her. She also enjoyed sneaking into one of the soldier’s tents to sleep and interrupting poker games. Reckless was the only animal to ever hold a rank. This story has a happy and satisfying ending.

Readers will be mesmerized by the illustration by graphic designer Jacopo Bruno. They are exquisite and at times life-like. Bruno’s format is reminiscent of a well-loved scrapbook.  Readers can’t help be drawn into the this little-known story of the love of a group of soldiers for this very determined, trusting, courageous, and loyal mare.

Resources: There is an author’s note at the end that talks about Reckless, the war and how the she lived out her days in a grassy compound at Camp Pendleton in California, and a real-life photograph of Reckless receiving her six medals.

Patricia McCormick is a former journalist and a two-time National Book Award finalist whose books include Cut, Sold, Never Fall Down, The Plot to Kill Hitler and the young readers edition of I Am Malala. She lives in New York. Visit McCormick at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Southampton Children’s Literature Conference –

I just returned from the Southampton Children’s Literature Conference July 11-15, at Southampton Stony Brook University.  Wow, what a memorable week!  A highlight for me was finally meeting Emma Walton Hamilton, after studying with her for two years.  She is warm and generous.  She truly is in her element with all the wonderful work she is doing as conference director for the  Children’s Literature Conference.  Her choice of workshop teachers and afternoon panels speakers was excellent.   I also enjoyed  attending another summer workshop with my colleague and friend,  Beth Stilborn.

Emma Pat Bethimagejpeg_2_2

I studied picture book creation with Peter H. Reynolds, an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator of The Dot, Ish, The North Star and I’m Here.   He prefers to be called a storyteller.

Every morning for 3 to 4 hours, I was inspired, encouraged and challenged to think out side of the box.  Working with Peter  was a joy.  He’s a fabulous teacher.  Peter nudged us to think visually.  We were there to make our mark in our own unique way.  We created something original every day.   We normally had two writing assignments daily, which were challenging and fun.  I had three goals in mind when I arrived — to create something new, break some rules and keep my writing short.  I accomplished all three.   Our class bonded immediately and spent a lot of time together.   We even ate lunch in our classroom to keep the energy flowing.  And Peter taught us simple animation.  It was a fun, supportive and creative environment.  Peter took time to work with each one of us individually, and review any manuscripts we brought.  He read mine out loud — it doesn’t get any better than that.  Oh wait it does.  Peter sees everything visually, so as he read my manuscripts, he was drawing illustrations in the margins.  I had him sign them.

Beth participated in Kate McMullan’s Middle Grade class.  Last Sunday morning the children’s literature classes presented their work before the writing conference.  There were other writers participating in creative writing,  poetry, non-fiction and short story classes led by Matt Klam, Mary Karr and Melissa Bank.  There also were workshops for playwrights, directors and actors.

One of the unique aspects of the conference was meeting so many different artists.  Some of us were dorm mates.  And we all dined and talked and learned from each other.   It was very exciting to be surrounded by such an artistic and stimulating group working on their craft.  I came home with my head full.  The second session this week includes YA fiction with Patricia McCormick, and screenwriting and digital film.

I hope those of you reading this will seriously think about participating next year.  Start saving now.   Only 12 people are selected to participate in each class, which adds to the intimacy of each workshop.  It is the best hands-on writing conference I have attended.  I can’t wait to go back!

Never Fall Down – Child Soldiers

Never Fall Down

Patricia McCormick, Author

Balzer & Bray, May 2012, Fiction

Suitable for:  YA Fiction, ages 14 and up

Themes: Child Soldiers, Cambodia History, Courage, Genocide, Khmer Rouge, War

Opening Synopsis:  “When Arn Chorn-Pond was eleven, the Khmer Rouge, a radical Communist regime, came to power in Cambodia, herding the entire population to work camps in the countryside.  Families were separated, and everyone, including children, was forced to work long, grueling hours digging ditches and growing rice…Nearly two million people died — one quarter of the population.  They were buried in mass graves called the Killing Fields.  It is the worst genocide ever inflicted by a country on its own people.”

Patricia McCormick, who is known for taking on complex and tough subjects, has done it again with the story about the genocide that occurred in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized control of Cambodia and tortured and killed its own people.  This extraordinary  story about Arn Chorn-Pond, an 11-year-old boy who survived, is true.  The author spent two years with Arn, retracing his life during the three years, eight months and twenty days reign of terror by the Khmer Rouge.  This book is powerful, emotional, horrific, gruesome, and brutal.  It is an important book for young people and adults to learn about this period of history.   Yet, it is an inspirational story of survival, courage, hope and a testimony to human spirit.

Arn is a care-free boy catching frogs with his best friend and selling ice cream with his brother.   One day an army of soldiers dressed in black enter the village and force everyone to the countryside.  His aunt, four sisters and a brother gather a few belongings and food, and join the throngs of people who are walking away from their homes.  Arm works in the rice fields until, the Khmer Rouge separate him from his family and send him to another labor camp.  He watches starving kids die in the rice fields, and he tells himself that he must never fall down.  Arn finds every possible means to survive.

When the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument, Arn volunteers without knowing a single note.  The Khmer Rouge want to hear revolutionary songs and Arn becomes a very good musician.  He does so to keep himself and other kids alive.  He also learns to dance and entertain which gives him more freedom in the camp and access to more food, which he sneaks to kids.  Arn is taken to the Mango Trees, where he sees the piles of earth and smells the stench of death.  He knows  these Killing Fields  and the Khmer Rouge force him to do unthinkable things.  There is so much death, starvation and brutality, that we see Arn transform over time into an emotionless and numb boy.   As the Vietnamese approach, he is given a gun and used as a child soldier and spy.  He quickly realizes that the Khmer Rouge is using the kids as bait in the jungles.  He is always running, because if he falls down he knows he won’t get up.

Why I like this book:  Patricia McCormick chose to write the book in Arn’s natural speaking voice — broken English.  The story is told in first person making it an even more powerful, convincing, and real.  In Never Fall Down, McCormick gives Arn a voice to speak his truth and share the pain, which he found cathartic and part of his healing process.  He tells his story so people will know first hand what happened.  McCormick is the author of Purple Heart, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009, and SOLD, a National Book Award finalist.

Today Arn Chorn-Pond has dedicated his life to peace and humanitarian causes around the world.  He founded the Children of War, an organization that aids children held hostage by war and violence.  He is the founder of Cambodian Living Arts, a group that helps preserve the traditional arts of Cambodia by pairing young students with the few master musicians who survived the Khmer Rouge.   He has received the Amnesty International Rights Award, the Reebok Human Rights Award, and the Spirit of Anne Frank Outstanding Citizen Award.  He lives in Cambodia and spends part of his year speaking in the United States.


Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

Purple Heart is a fictionalized book written by Patricia McCormick for  youth over 13 years of age.  It is a gripping account about 18-year-old “boy soldiers” being sent to fight the war in Iraq.  As McCormick commented, “It isn’t a pro-war book or an anti-war book.”   “It’s my attempt to portray how three children — two 18-year-old Americans and a 10-year-old Iraqi boy — have been affected by the war.”   McCormick has written a convincing account about how brutal life is in the war zone, for both soldiers and civilians.  It is a heartbreaking story about how everyone suffers in war.  Purple Heart is a well-researched novel.  It was named by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of 2009.  This is a great discussion book for the classroom.

Private Matt Duffy wakes up in an Army hospital with a doctor poking his feet with pins.   He doesn’t understand why he’s there.  He has difficulty moving and his speech is garbled.   He is told he has suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).  Another officer soon appears and presents him with a Purple Heart.  But, Matt doesn’t know why, and he doesn’t want the medal.  Matt wants to know what has happened to him.  He’s instructed that his job is to recover from his battle wounds.

In the following weeks, sleep brings Matt little peace.  He is haunted by the sight of a little Iraqi boy standing at the end of an alley filled with debris.  It’s always the same flashback of a strange series of events happening in slow motion.  He sees a stray dog, hears the loud call to prayer by a muezzin,  and sees an overturned car in the street.  Suddenly there is a silent flash of light and the young boy is lifted off his feet into the air.  There is a loud explosion next to Matt.

Matt’s buddy Justin, visits frequently.   Justin tells him what he remembers of the attack.  Justin saved Matt’s life that day.  Over time, Matt begins to remember more and feels Justin is holding back.  He knows something went very wrong that day.  They were in the wrong place.  They hadn’t followed orders.  Matt somehow feels responsible for the boy’s death, but he doesn’t know why.

After lengthy rehabilitation and a criminal investigation into the death of a civilian, Matt returns to his squadron.  He’s glad to be back.  There is always the dust and sand to contend with and the searing heat.  But, there is also the uncertainty of living on the edge.  There is the possibility of an ambush around every corner, and  Matt is fearful he won’t be able to pull the trigger when the time comes.  The events of that day still live in him and he wonders if he’ll ever know the truth.

McCormick isn’t afraid to tackle tough and complex issues.  Visit McCormick’s website to view her other award-winning books, Sold, My Brother’s Keeper and Cut.

Note:  Although Matt doesn’t die in this story, other soldiers do.  There are support organizations available for families who have lost loved ones to war,  Tragedy Assistance for Survivors Program (TAPS).   Military Families United honor the fallen, support those who fight, and serve military families.  The  U.S. Army has a program, Finding Strength and Hope Together,  for soldiers/veterans at risk and dealing with PTSD.  There is the  National Veterans Wellness Center in Angel Fire, NM, that helps rehabilitate veterans with PTSD. And, there is a Veterans Crisis Line where veterans can call 24 hours a day for support.

Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved