Saturday, May 29, 2010

Once


Once
by Morris Gleitzman
Henry Holt, 2009. 163 pgs. Juvenile fiction/Young Adult

Felix has been in a Polish orphanage for three years and eight months when he gets a whole carrot in his watery soup and thinks it is a message from his parents that they are coming back for him. Felix doesn't know he is Jewish until the Mother Superior changes his name in front of the Nazis who have come to burn books at the school, and when his bookseller parents don't show up, he leaves the orphanage to look for them. Hunting for food, Felix comes to a farmhouse where all the chickens and their owners have been killed; a young girl survives and Felix hoists her on his back and takes her to the city where they accidentally fall in with a group of people headed for the death camps. Felix and Zelda are spared by a man named Barney whom Gleitzman has modeled after Janusz Korczak, the Polish doctor who gave his life caring for Jewish orphans during World War II. Hidden in the basement of a warehouse, they think they are safe, but not for long . . . . Felix is a delightful and remarkable young boy who stands, in his way, for all who perished in or were orphaned by the destruction of the Jews during World War II. Though short, Gleitzman's book is characterized by fully developed, memorable characters and the bittersweet aura of love among the ruins. Some violent scenes make this book best-suited for mature sixth graders and older.

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