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    A Reading Group Guide to

    Tucky Jo and Little Heart

    By Patricia Polacco


    About the Book

    Friendship, loyalty, and kindness stand the test of time in this heartwarming World War II–era picture book based on a true story.

    Tucky Jo was known as the “kid from Kentucky” when he enlisted in the army at age fifteen. Being the youngest recruit in the Pacific during World War II was tough. But he finds a friend in a little girl who helps him soothe his bug bites, and he gets to know her family and gives them some of his rations. Although the little girl doesn’t speak English, Tucky Jo and Little Heart share the language of kindness. Many years later, Tucky Jo and Little Heart meet again, and an act of kindness is returned when it’s needed the most.

    Discussion Questions

    Choose the questions and activities that work best with the age and interests of the child or class you are sharing this book with.

    1. Johnnie was born in Allen, Kentucky, in 1924. Find Kentucky on a map. Where is it located? Which part of the United States is it in?

    2. Johnnie grew up like a “backcountry boy.” What do you think that means? What do you think it was like for Johnnie growing up there?

    3. Look closely at the illustrations. Do they help you understand Johnnie’s life in Kentucky? How so?

    4. What are some of the things Johnnie learned when he was a boy? What are some things you learn today that Johnnie wouldn’t have learned or even known about?

    5. Can you think of some things that Johnnie learned growing up that helped prepare him for life as a soldier? Do you think these experiences encouraged him to help Little Heart and the villagers?

    6. Johnnie faced a lot of hardships as a soldier, while Little Heart and the villagers also faced difficulties. List some of them.

    7. What do you think Johnnie meant when he said, “Now I knew there ain’t no glory in war”?

    8. Johnnie was homesick. He dreamed about his ma and “her bakin’ powder biscuits.” He says, “I could even smell the pine boards in our house . . . I could see the green grass in our holler. Oh how I wanted to be back home with my ma and my kin.” Were you ever homesick? What did you miss most?

    9. When Johnnie and Little Heart first meet, she is hiding behind a bush, scared, while he is pointing his rifle at her. In war, people are scared. They don’t always know whom to trust. How did Johnnie and Little Heart overcome their fear and learn to trust each other?  

    10. Johnnie and Little Heart were able to open their hearts to each other, and in the process, Little Heart’s whole village was helped. List some of things that Johnnie and his unit did that helped the villagers survive.

    11. What did you think when Johnnie and Little Heart met again in the veteran’s hospital?

    12. There is a saying, “What goes around, comes around.”  It means that there is a cycle in life and the things that you do to or for others will come back to you. Do you agree with that statement? Can you find an example in the book?

    13. Johnnie was one of the most decorated soldiers in his company. He received many awards and medals, but the one that meant the most to him was the small silver heart from Nurse Zaballa (Little Heart). Why do you think he felt that way? 

    14. If you were to receive a medal from your parents, teachers, or friends, what would you be most proud to get it for?

    15. How does the book make you feel? 

    16. Telling stories about kindness seems to encourage acts of kindness. Do you agree? 

    17. Can you think of other books where the characters are kind and help each other?

    18. What are some things you can do in your family, school, or community to help others? 

    Activities & Projects

    1. The pictures in this book are very expressive. Just look at the pictures without reading the text in the book and retell the story in your own words.

    2. During World War II, many people at home followed soldiers’ journeys by sticking pins onto maps to mark their locations. Find a map and trace Johnnie’s postings in the South Pacific. 

    3. Little Heart lived in a village in Luzon, in the Philippines. Find Luzon on a world map. Research the area’s geography, topography, and climate.

    4. Johnnie made a jiggy doll for Little Heart. You can see one on YouTube, here: 

    5. Learn how to make your own hinged dancing doll, here:

    6. Johnnie was one of the most decorated soldiers in his company. At the end of the book, there is a list of the medals and awards he won. Research what each one means. Then find pictures of the medals and make a collage.

    7. Design and create a medal for someone you think is special. What is the medal for?

    8. Veteran’s Day is a holiday to honor people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Educators, search for Veteran’s Day information, activities, and crafts to share with your students here:                  

    9. Find out more about the author, Patricia Polacco, and read other books she has written and illustrated. You can begin here:


    Guide written in 2015 by Judith Rovenger. Judith is on the adjunct faculty of Long Island University and has taught at Columbia, Wesleyan, and Rutgers universities. Her area of specialty is in ethics and literature. She is the former director of Youth Services at the Westchester Library System (NYS).

    This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.




More Books From This Author

Remembering Vera
Because of Thursday
Fiona's Lace
The Blessing Cup

About the Author

Patricia Polacco
Photo Credit:

Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco belongs to a family of storytellers, poets, farmers, teachers, and artists. They came from many parts of the world, but mainly Russia. She grew up to be an illustrator, a designer, and creator of many beloved children’s books, including The Keeping Quilt, The Blessing Cup, Fiona’s Lace, The Trees of the Dancing Goats, Babushka’s Doll, and My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother. She lives in Union City, Michigan. Visit her at and follow her on Facebook.