When the Germans attack their Romany encampment during World War II, Andrej and his younger brother, Tomas, flee through a ravaged countryside under cover of darkness, guarding a secret bundle. Their journey leads to a bombed-out town, where the boys discover a hidden wonder: a zoo filled with creatures in need of hope. Like Andrej and Tomas, the animals-wolf and eagle, monkey and bear, lioness and seal, kangaroo and llama- have stories to share and a mission to reclaim their ...
When the Germans attack their Romany encampment during World War II, Andrej and his younger brother, Tomas, flee through a ravaged countryside under cover of darkness, guarding a secret bundle. Their journey leads to a bombed-out town, where the boys discover a hidden wonder: a zoo filled with creatures in need of hope. Like Andrej and Tomas, the animals-wolf and eagle, monkey and bear, lioness and seal, kangaroo and llama- have stories to share and a mission to reclaim their lives.
Gr 5–8—Brothers Andrej, 12, and Tomas, 9, are wandering a war-ravaged countryside after their Romany encampment was attacked by German soldiers. Carrying their infant sister in a pack, they've been scavenging for weeks when they stumble upon an abandoned zoo curiously unharmed in a town utterly destroyed by bombing. The animals are hungry, thirsty, and frightened in their cages, but willing to share their stories with the children. War as seen through the eyes of innocent children is brutal, but the judgment of these animals on man for the horror of war and the iron bars keeping them from their rightful place in the world is heartbreaking. Despite seeing two members of his caravan brutally killed and his extended family marched off by soldiers and told to bring shovels, Andrej clings to the hope of finding his parents. The naïveté of children will allow hope in this story even though the circumstances of the lost children and caged animals offer little reason for it. The hungry, footsore youngsters share their food with the animals and, through their own storytelling, create an escape that brings freedom to all of them. The language is spare and poignant; each animal has a story and a distinct voice, ranging from tragic to menacing to sadly comic. The setting of Europe during World War II is revealed through tiny historical details woven seamlessly into the story, but the lack of precise place names and dates gives the novel a timeless quality. This beautiful and sad book will stay with readers long after the story is done.—Caroline Tesauro, Radford Public Library, VA
This somber yet not hopeless fable set during WWII offers a haunting portrait of families, human and otherwise, torn apart. Two Romany boys, 12-year-old Andrej and nine-year-old Tomas, flee with their infant sister after German soldiers arrest their relatives, discovering a bombed-out town with an intact zoo. Lindgren Award–winner Hartnett (Butterfly) combines powerful prose with magical realism to heighten this setting and develop the personalities of the animals that the boys meet, who begin to speak after another round of bombing. The group—including a silent eagle, a mischievous monkey, a lioness whose family has been taking from her, and a seal stolen from its mother as a pup—spend a charged night sharing stories. Offermann’s (The Boneshaker) delicate b&w drawings introduce each chapter. Hartnett doesn’t minimize the horrors the boys have seen, making a profound case for the futility of war while exploring questions about responsibility and freedom. “You are a mysterious animal, you know,” the bear tells the brothers. “A bear does what a bear must do to keep itself alive. But a man does many things that he has no need to do.” Ages 10–up. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
This somber yet not hopeless fable set during WWII offers a haunting portrait of families, human and otherwise, torn apart...Lindgren Award-winner Hartnett combines powerful prose with magical realism to heighten this setting and develop the personalities of the animals that the boys meet, who begin to speak after another round of bombing.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This beautiful and sad book will stay with readers long after the story is done.
—School Library Journal
- Lindsay Grattan
Twelve-year-old Andrej and his younger brother, Tomas, have narrowly escaped the attack of the German soldiers who took over their parents' Romany camp during World War II. Left on their own, they wander for days amid the ruins of villages, carrying baby sister Wilma in a cloth sack, along with meager rations of food and supplies hastily retrieved from abandoned camps. One night the boys find a zoo in which various wild animals—wolf, eagle, lioness, seal (among others)—have been neglected in their cages. Beneath a bright, ever-watchful moon, the boys soon discover that the animals can speak . . . and have an awful lot to say. Without food, water, or hope for survival, the animals can only dream of the people who once cared for them and a life of freedom most have never had. Hartnett delivers a hauntingly magical story about war and its aftereffects through the eyes of the most innocent, and those who are normally not heard. Though the story is tragic and heartbreaking, there is a satisfying glimmer of hope. Young readers will connect with the story through the voices of the animals and the magical elements seen throughout. This book could be used in a classroom, as it allows for discussion and interpretation of the consequences of war, the meaning of freedom, and the choices one must make in the face of adversity. Though it encompasses some adult themes, it is easily accessible to younger readers and extremely thought-provoking. The beautiful and lyrical quality of Hartnett's prose alone is worth the read. Reviewer: Lindsay Grattan
- Claudia Mills
In exquisitely poetic prose, Australian author Hartnett, winner of the 2008 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for the body of her work in children's literature, weaves one of the saddest and bleakest stories yet offered to young readers. Two brothers, twelve-year-old Andrej and nine-year-old Tomas, wander alone through a war-devastated landscape after German soldiers brutally attack their Romany (Gypsy) encampment. With them they tote a forlorn bundle: their infant baby sister. Traveling only by night, the three children come upon an abandoned zoo of caged creatures: wolf, eagle, monkey, bear, lioness, seal, kangaroo, llama, chamois, and boar. These animals are able to speak—the children's slain Uncle Marin once told them that "Animals know things you can't imagine. And they know how to keep a secret." These animals know unimaginable sorrow and loss, and they share their stories with the children who also know grief beyond bearing. Page after page shimmers with hauntingly beautiful descriptions of the moonlit night: "Darkness was thrown over the village like a sorcerer's cloak;" "Broken glass glittered on every surface, like fireflies caught in an appalling web;" moonlight "draped the grass like a frayed sheet of linen;" the moon "now seemed made of the dullest cloth." But the pain of the stories told here—tales of senseless slaughter, tales of vengeful slaughter, and tales of endless slaughter—remains without any but imaginary, and impossible, redemption. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
Sonya Hartnett is the winner of the 2008 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world's largest award for lifetime achievement in children's and youth literature. Her novels with Candlewick include Thursday's Child, What the Birds See, Stripes of the Sidestep Wolf, The Silver Donkey, The Ghost's Child, and Surrender, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. She lives in Australia.