Once by Morris Gleitzman
|Once by Morris Gleitzman|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Heartbreaking holocaust story about a Jewish boy trying to find his bookseller parents because he thinks the Nazis have something against books, not Jews. Superb stuff.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 108||Date: August 2009|
Felix is the luckiest child in the orphanage. He's the only one whose parents aren't dead. He keeps this to himself, because he knows the other children would be very upset if they found out he was there under false pretences. They'd also be horribly jealous, understandably. It doesn't occur to him that Mother Minka also keeps schtum for another reason entirely: Felix is Jewish and it's Poland under Nazi occupation in the 1940s.
Many other things don't occur to Felix: to doubt that his parents will ever come to collect him; that Adolf Hitler is remembered in prayers because it's dangerous not to; that Adolf Hitler has anything to do with the Nazis; that it's Jewish people, not the books they burn, that Nazis really don't like. But when the Nazis do come to the orphanage and they do burn books, Felix knows he has to do something. His parents are booksellers, you see. And so he sets off for home, completely unaware of the danger he's in...
Oh my, but this is a heartbreaking little book. It's told through Felix's eyes and the prism of a ten-year-old's world view. He's a kind-hearted little boy and he's trusting and truthful. He expects the same from others, as children do, and he interprets their words and actions as benign, even when the evidence tells him it's not. He loves a good story - Richmal Crompton in particular, since William has the same optimistic outlook on life - and he writes a lot of his own. Even through your tears, you laugh a great deal at his misunderstandings. And that laughter is desperately needed as a catharsis, because of course, Felix gets a great deal wrong.
It's gentle, and humane, and ordinary, Once, even though its subject is the violent, the inhumane, and the twisted. Readers, child and adult alike, will fall in love with Felix and Zelda, the little girl he takes under his wing, and whose catchphrase is Don't you know anything?
It gives dignity where once it was taken away.
My thanks to the nice people at Penguin for sending the book.
You'll see the Amazon link above takes you to a volume in which Once and its sequel Then are published together. You shouldn't miss either. It's the first time these books have been published together, and here they've been repackaged in an adult edition. This 40-something adult can attest that they have as much to offer the grown-up as they do child, in some ways, perhaps, even more. Maus by Art Spiegelman is a graphic novel and a true Holocaust story. Older children will find its honesty hugely affecting. Communists didn't fare well under the Nazis either, as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak so eloquently tells us.
You can read more book reviews or buy Once by Morris Gleitzman at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Once by Morris Gleitzman at Amazon.com.
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