Gleitzman, Morris Once
Henry Holt/macmillan children's pub group 2010 163p 16.99
978-0-8050-9026-0 ms/hs Historical VG-BN
Felix, a gifted storyteller, foresakes the safety of the Catholic orphanage to search for his parents in 1942 war-torn Poland. Each chapter chronicles his growing awareness of Nazi atrocities and the plight of Jewish citizens during the Holocaust.
Each chapter begins with the word, “Once,” and continues a story of Felix’s life that becomes more and more frightening as he comes the realization of what is going on in Poland at the hands of the Nazis. He begins by finding a carrot, which he sees as a sign that his parents are coming to take him out of the orphange where he has been living for the past 3 plus years. Readers realize what the real circumstances are, that his parents are probably dead and that the orphanage is probably the safest place for Felix. But, predictably, he leaves the orphanage and sets out to find his parents. What he finds slowly causes him to lose his naïveté and begin to understand the Nazis’ real intentions include the annihilation of the Jews.
The ending leaves the reader hanging, and is realistic, being neither sugar-coated nor resolving anything. All that is known is that Felix and Zelda have escaped from the train, bringing the other hidden children to a death camp. Links to primary source material related to the story are included at the end of the book. The story is so compelling that most readers will want to research the links.
Pair this with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Both narrators share a naïveté that makes the horrors of the Holocaust even more poignant. Highly recommended for high school and upper middle school collections. The story is engrossing, characters believable, and a welcome addition to any Holocaust literature collection. Naismith, Pat