The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett

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The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Romany children in Eastern Europe during WWII evade the Nazis and find an abandoned zoo. A beautiful fable that's both simple and complex. Full of imagery and layers of meaning it's as special as anything Hartnett has written.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: November 2010
Publisher: Walker
ISBN: 140633149X

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It's Eastern Europe during World War II and orphaned Roma brothers Andrej and Tomas are journeying through war-ravaged countryside carrying a precious and secret bundle. It's an odd kind of journey because they really don't have anywhere to go. They have a great deal to avoid, however, such as soldiers with rifles, bombs, and villagers who would decry them on sight. As Andrej trudges on, worrying about Tomas, he is thinking it's just another night, just another village in ruins. But he's wrong. The boys stumble across a zoo. The cages are still standing, intact and locked. And the animals have no food and water. But they are alive. And they can talk.

Together, the two boys and the captive animals spend an unforgettable night, each telling his own story, and parallel themes of love, loss and courage begin to emerge. Can the boys find a way to free the animals? And will they ever be free of persecution themselves?

Sonya Hartnett, as ever, treats us to a fable for everyman. I love her books. They're at once simple and complex, full of imagery and layers of meaning. They're published for children - I would happily read The Midnight Zoo aloud to a child under seven - but no adult would feel ashamed to read them, and Hartnett herself resists the label of children's author. In this book, she's talking about freedom of the body and freedom of the mind and soul. The animals and the children have much in common - both taken away from their own kind and both unable to live with hope for the future.

And it's beautiful, creating a deep emotional connection and using striking imagery - the bear's ears are toppled like teacups, soldiers fill the landscape like an ocean of army. It will open up the worlds of possibilities language can offer to its younger readers and make everyone's heart beat just a little bit faster. An extraordinary and powerful read - just as we have come to expect from this singular author.

My thanks to the good people at Walker for sending the book.

Hartnett herself takes us back to WWI in The Silver Donkey about two French children and a trench blind British soldier. The Road of Bones by Anne Fine is less of a fable, but may appeal to more sophisticated readers exploring ideas of freedom. And don't forget the classic I Am David by Anne Holm.

Buy The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett at

Buy The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett at


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