SERGEANT RECKLESS: A Little Horse with a Big Heart and a Bigger Appetite

Lynn: Opening Patricia McCormick’s first picture book, the reader is blasted with end pages showing headlines from the Korean War. It is a dramatic opening for the dramatic story of the U. S. Marines and a small, hungry horse. Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero (2017) is a charming, funny, and inspiring story of a little horse with a big personality who bonds with soldiers in a time of conflict.

As the Korean War raged, U. S. Marines were exhausted from hauling ammunition uphill to feed the new powerful cannon called the “reckless rifle.” Lt. Eric Pedersen wondered if they could find a mule to help with the work, but they settled for the small, hungry horse from an abandoned race course.

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

The young private assigned to train “Reckless” quickly learned that food was her main focus. After going hungry for an unknown time, Reckless would eat just about anything. Every morning she showed up in the mess hall and licked the cook’s face until he gave her a breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee. Coca-Cola, chocolate, poker chips and loose dollar bills all disappeared down Reckless!

As much as they loved her, the company worried about how Reckless would manage under fire. They needn’t have worried, since Reckless proved steadfast and brave, even continuing her duties after being wounded by shrapnel. Awarded two Purple Hearts, promoted to sergeant, and retired to live out her years at Camp Pendleton in California, Reckless is a testament to the Marine Corp motto of Semper Fidelis. No one can resist this story!


Cindy: I’m a fan of McCormick’s books for older readers, so I was delighted to hear she had written a picture book. The story is wonderful and full of details augmented by an author’s note that tells a heartbreaking tale of the horse’s heroic beginning.

Let’s talk about the stunning artwork! Iacopo Bruno (Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France) illustrates Reckless’s story brilliantly. He created the artwork in pencil, colorized it digitally, and infused each spread with muted color and sepia tones. McCormick’s text often appears on military objects like the inside of a first aid kit, on a clipboard, and on the back of a playing card with the vintage playing card box alongside it. These layouts are both creative and visually striking, whether during a humorous scene featuring Private Reckless’s voracious and sometimes inappropriate appetite, or during dramatic and serious battle scenes. The danger feels palpable, as does the camaraderie between man and horse. While I am fervently hoping that we do not have another war with North Korea, I am inspired and thankful for Sergeant Reckless and the marines with whom she served that I met in this beautiful book.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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