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Once

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Overview

Felix, a Jewish boy in Poland in 1942, is hiding from the Nazis in a Catholic orphanage. The only problem is that he doesn't know anything about the war, and thinks he's only in the orphanage while his parents travel and try to salvage their bookselling business. And when he thinks his parents are in danger, Felix sets off to warn them—straight into the heart of Nazi-occupied Poland.

To Felix, everything is a story: Why did he get a whole carrot in his soup? It must be...

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Once

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Overview

Felix, a Jewish boy in Poland in 1942, is hiding from the Nazis in a Catholic orphanage. The only problem is that he doesn't know anything about the war, and thinks he's only in the orphanage while his parents travel and try to salvage their bookselling business. And when he thinks his parents are in danger, Felix sets off to warn them—straight into the heart of Nazi-occupied Poland.

To Felix, everything is a story: Why did he get a whole carrot in his soup? It must be sign that his parents are coming to get him. Why are the Nazis burning books? They must be foreign librarians sent to clean out the orphanage's outdated library. But as Felix's journey gets increasingly dangerous, he begins to see horrors that not even stories can explain.

Despite his grim suroundings, Felix never loses hope. Morris Gleitzman takes a painful subject and expertly turns it into a story filled with love, friendship, and even humor.

A 2011 Sydney Taylor Honor Book for Teen Readers

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (rev. 9/06), this Holocaust parable plays its main character’s naiveté against readers’ likely knowledge of the historical realities, but here the juxtaposition is believable and not at all precious; like The Book Thief (rev. 3/06), the novel extols the power of storytelling in the face of tragedy, but Once pits Felix’s stories against even deeper ugliness. ... Gleitzman manages to find a grain of hope in the unresolved (and likely dire) conclusion, but this is the rare Holocaust book for young readers that doesn’t alleviate its dark themes with a comforting ending.”—The Horn Book, Starred Review

“This gripping novel will make readers want to find out more”—Booklist

Publishers Weekly
Tension builds swiftly in this wrenching tale as Felix, a preteen Polish Jew, narrates his experience of Holocaust atrocities, framed by a search for his parents that begins when he escapes from a Catholic orphanage. A natural storyteller, Felix begins each chapter with a formulaic prelude: “Once I was living in a cellar in a Nazi city with seven other children,” before chronicling events in which his narrative gifts provide comfort and courage to himself and others in increasingly bleak circumstances. After finding his home occupied by hostile neighbors, Felix witnesses pointless murders on a forced march. Gleitzman (Toad Rage) allows readers to draw conclusions before Felix does (he thinks a book burning is being conducted by “professional librarians in professional librarian armbands”), making poignant Felix's gradual loss of innocence when he realizes that Hitler is not a protector but “the boss of the Nazis,” and when he finally accepts his parents' deaths. The humorous dimension of Felix's narration provides welcome relief, while courageous acts of kindness by Catholic nuns, a German neighbor, and a Jewish dentist lend this tragedy universality. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
When his Jewish parents place young Felix in an orphanage in war-torn Poland, they tell him that they must leave to fix their book business. Felix knows they will return. Curiously, one morning men in dark suits storm the orphanage and start burning books-these must be the people his parents have fled from. Others call these men Nazis; Felix doesn't understand. Determined to be reunited with his family and to save more books from being burned, Felix runs away. But during his travels he sees even more horrors: People are beaten, starved and shot. All because of books? Felix's misconceptions are heartbreaking, and readers will wince as he slowly and painfully gets closer to the truth. Packed with plenty of sadness, Felix's story is also touched with hope. He meets a kind-hearted man, loosely based on the real-life Janusz Korczak. A resonant shot to the heart-Gleitzman delivers a sharp sense of what it must have been like to be a child during the Holocaust, forced to grow up far too quickly. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)
VOYA - Amy Wyckoff
After three years and eight months in an orphanage in the mountains, Felix finds a whole carrot in his soup—an extreme rarity. Believing the carrot is a message from his parents, he embarks on a journey through Nazi-occupied Poland to his former home. Unfortunately Felix has not been educated about the Nazi sentiment toward people of Jewish descent, and when he sees the Nazis burning books, he assumes their hatred is directed at booksellers. When he finally arrives in his hometown, he learns that everything has changed and a new family is living in his house. A courageous man named Barney appears to rescue Felix and brings him to a cellar to hide with other children. Barney is willing to sacrifice his safety, yet he cannot save the children from the trains that will carry them to the camps. It is not until the middle of the book that Felix begins to realize the Nazis do not hate Jewish books but Jewish people. Felix's naivete will likely remind readers of the narrator of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by Boyne (David Fickling Books/Random House, 2006/VOYA December 2006); despite the similarities, the first-person narrative is distinct, and Felix's journey will be a uniquely moving one for readers. The son of booksellers, Felix reveals his joy for storytelling in the way he crafts a beautiful narrative despite the gruesomeness of his surroundings. Even in the end, he maintains that he has been lucky for all the moments of delight he has felt, if only once. Reviewer: Amy Wyckoff
Children's Literature - Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger
Although this is the story of a younger child, young teenagers will be captivated by Felix, a young Jewish boy growing up in a world he cannot understand. Each chapter begins with "Once," as Felix remembers happier times that he no longer experiences. As his story progresses, the memories shift closer to his current experiences. Felix runs away from an orphanage, thinking he will be able to return to his home and find his parents. But the new residents chase him from his home, and he is left alone. Felix is surrounded by death and destruction as he encounters violence and death all around him. At one farm, he finds a young girl alive in a scene of brutal death and begins to care for her. He helps her cope in the same way he copes himself, by making up stories and creating alternate realities. Readers will be able to see what is really happening to Felix and the other Jewish children long before the characters in the book. This provides readers a way to understand, on some level, what is unimaginable. The final words from the author ground the story in a tragic reality. Reviewer: Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Felix lives in Poland in 1942, and reading is his survival mechanism. Now almost 10, he was sent to a Catholic orphanage three years and eight months earlier by his Jewish bookstore-owning parents, and he's convinced himself that the sole reason he remains in hiding is because Nazis hate books. He's a natural storyteller, and when he finds a full carrot in what is typically a woefully thin bowl of soup, he fantasizes that it's a sign from his parents that they're finally on their way to take him home. When the orphanage is visited by surly Nazis instead of joyous parents, Felix escapes with only his cherished notebook full of his stories into the nearby countryside, still hoping for a family reunion. He soon discovers a burning home with two slain adults in the yard and their young daughter bruised but still alive. He takes Zelda on his journey, shielding her from the reality of her parents' deaths in much the same way he's been comforting himself, by inventing alternative realities. But, as he encounters the escalating ugliness of the death marches that are emptying his old neighborhood, now a ghetto, Felix becomes increasingly conflicted about the need to imagine a hopeful order and the need to confront brutal reality head-on. An easy first-person narrative in terms of reading level—and a good choice as a read-aloud—this Holocaust story also taps gut-punching power by contrasting the way in which children would like to imagine their world with the tragic way that life sometimes unfolds.—Jeffrey Hastings, Highlander Way Middle School, Howell, MI
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312653040
  • Publisher: Square Fish
  • Publication date: 3/19/2013
  • Series: Felix and Zelda Series , #1
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 94,252
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Morris Gleitzman has been a fashion-industry trainee, frozen-chicken defroster, department-store Santa, sugar-mill employee, and screenwriter, among other things. Now he's one of Australia's best-loved children's book authors. His books have been published all over the world.

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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions:

Chapter 1 (p. 1)

“Once I was living in an orphanage in the mountains and I shouldn’t have been and I

almost caused a riot.”

1. Describe your first impressions of Felix, Mother Minka and one other character

introduced in the opening chapter (consider the traits they appear to possess and

your response to meeting them).

2. What is the significance of the carrot and what are Felix’s plans for it?

Chapter 2 (p. 9)

“Once I stayed awake all night, waiting for Mom and Dad to arrive.”

1. What memories and physical evidence does Felix have of his parent? What beliefs

does Felix have of his parents? What beliefs does Felix hold about what

happened?

2. Explain the importance of Felix’s notebook. Identify 4 things this notebook

symbolizes.

Chapter 3 (p.17)

“Once I saw a customer, years ago, damaging books in Mom and Dad’s shop. Tearing

pages out. Screwing them up. Shouting things I couldn’t understand.”

1. Identify two things that unsettle Felix and explain how his thinking starts to

change.

2. Felix has plans to help Mom and Dad. What are they and what motivates him to

take action?

Chapter 4 (p. 27)

“Once I escaped from an orphanage in the mountains and I didn’t have to do any of the

things you do in escape stories.”

1. List some of the reasons Felix considers himself “lucky” (p.30)? List things you

think he could complain about.

2. What indications are there –recognized or missed by Felix- that something is

terribly wrong? What explanations does Felix come up with to make sense of

things?

Chapter 5 (p. 38)

“Once I walked all night and all the next day except for short sleep in a forest and all

night again and then I was home.”

1. Contrast Felix’s dreams with the reality of what he discovers when he makes it

home.

2. Describe the range of emotions he experiences. Analyze emotions he observes in

other people encountered at this point in the story. How would you classify them

Chapter 6 (p.49)

“Once I walked as fast as I could towards the city to find Mom and Dad and I didn’t let

anything stop me. Not until the fire.”

1. What changes have taken place in Felix (e.g. more cautious, fearful of Nazis) and

how do they influence his actions

2. How does Felix control his anxiety and make use of his story telling ability?

Chapter 7 (p. 57)

“Once I woke up and I was at home in bed. Dad was reading me a story about a boy who

got left in an orphanage. Mom came in with some carrot soup. They both promised they’d

never leave me anywhere. We hugged and hugged.”

1. What is the significance of the following: the armbands? Felix’s predictions about

the future?

2. How does Felix answer his own questions- “Why would the Nazis make people

suffer like this just for the sake of some books? (p.64) Why is this the turning

point?

Chapter 8 (p. 66)

“Once I spent about 6 hours telling stories to Zelda, to keep her spirits up, to keep my

spirits up, to keep our legs moving as we trudge through the rain towards the city.”

1. Why does Felix go from 6 hours of story telling to keeping Zelda’s spirits up, to

the point where he suddenly hasn’t got any more stories” (pg 73)

2. Describe the toll such a journey takes on Felix and Zelda – physically and

emotionally. How is it they manage to survive?

Chapter 9 (p.74)

“Once I lay in the street in tears, because the Nazis are everywhere and no grownups can

protect kids from them, not Mom and Dad, not Mother Minka, not Father Ludwik, Not

God, not Jesus, not the Virgin Mary, not the Pope, not Adolf Hitler.”

1. Explain what Barney is doing. What sort of person do you think he is? What does

he represent?

2. What impact does the realization that no-one can protect the children have on

Felix? How does this affect his belief in the power of stories?”

Chapter 10 (p. 83)

“Once I was living in a cellar in a Nazi city with seven other kids when I shouldn’t have

been.”

1. Use an example of Felix’s behavior or “self-talk” to illustrate his unusual degree of

maturity and self-awareness. Explain your reasoning.

2. What story “saved his life” and what connections has he finally made?

Chapter 11 (p. 90)

“Once I escaped from an underground hiding place by telling a story. It was a bit

exaggerated. It was a bit fanciful. It was my imagination getting a big carried away.”

1. What lengths does Felix go to when trying to ‘escape’? How does Barney handle

it?

2. What does Felix discover about Barney and how does Barney enlist Felix’s help?

Chapter 12 (p. 102)

“Once a dentist stopped me from asking a Nazi officer about my parents and I was really

mad at him.”

1. Why did Barney stop Felix from asking about his parents? Why do he and Felix

decide that Zelda needs to know the truth?

2. Describe the range of reactions the children are showing as result of the traumas

each has suffered. How do you feel about the stories shared by the children?

Chapter 13 (p. 111)

“Once I told Zelda a story that made her cry, so I lay on her sack with her for hours and

hours until she fell asleep.”

1. Analyze Barney’s gesture of giving Felix new boots. What does he mean by what

he says (p.112) to Felix? What other “good things” does Felix seem to think he’s

got and what can you see (e.g. his hope and optimism etc) in him that is good?

2. Felix makes a terrible discovery in the chapter and Barney is forced to tell hi

some awful truths about what is going on. What is Felix torn between as he tries

to take it all in?

Chapter 14 (p.121)

“Once I loved stories and now I hate them.”

1. Describe Felix’s state of mind as this chapter opens. Describe your own feelings

as you read about his close shaves and what he discovers upon returning to his

hideout.

2. The importance of books is emphasized in this chapter. Felix’s favorite gets him

into terrible danger but other books “save” him. What do books symbolize and

mean for Felix?

Chapter 15 (p. 132)

“Once the Nazis found our cellar. They dragged us all out and made us walk through the

ghetto while they pointed guns at us.”

1. Barney and Zelda wouldn’t go. Why not? Think of three more reasons.

2. What is important to Felix as they head to the railway station? What is important

to the others as they are tossed aboard the train?

Chapter 16 (p.141)

“Once I went on my first train journey, but I wouldn’t call it exciting. I’d call it painful

and miserable.”

1. Once again, a book becomes a “savior” of sorts. Explain how. What is the

significance of the fact that Felix is willing to use- and virtually lose- his

notebook?

2. What choice and possible outcomes does the hole in the carriage create for the

people inside?

Chapter 17 (p. 149)

“Once I lay in a field somewhere in Poland, not sure if I am alive or dead.”

1. Felix feels fortunate –However my story turns out, I’ll never forget how lucky I

am” (pg. 150). What is your explanation of this?

2. Knowing Felix as you do by the end of the novel, make a prediction of how you

think his story might continue to unfold or end.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 18 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(11)

4 Star

(4)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(1)

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 17 of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 28, 2013

    Go get this book! Once by Morris Gleitzman is a captivating nove

    Go get this book! Once by Morris Gleitzman is a captivating novel about Felix, a young Jewish boy living in a small catholic orphanage. He believes everything happens for a reason, he is the voice of children in the holocaust. When this boy loses his naïveté about war, he discovers that not all people are going to accept you. As a more mature child, he takes on the role of parent for some of the kids he meets along his incredible journey to help find his mom and dad, whom he believes are in trouble. But when he goes right into Nazi occupation of Poland, he is stuck between the decision of risking his life or his parents. This is a fascinating novel that will leave you at the end of your seat. I would definitely recommend this book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2012

    Wow!!

    This book really comes to life. You really are hanginwith thrillibg cluffhsnger at every chapter and I just couldnt put it down. You fall in love with these charecters and I definitley recommend this book for everyone. The story is original and thrilling, an easy read, but you wont regret it. Suspensful and heart wrenching, you wont be able to stop reading and taking in all the twists and turns of Once.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2013

    It's a Must Read

    Didnt read this book on the Nook. Have it at home but I love it. Definitely worth reading. If you like this book there are three more that follow it. Soooooo goooood.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2013

    OMG!!!

    I read this book in 3 days. Each section was 35 minutes. I couldnt put it down. I got 4 oif my friends to read it. They said it was phanominal. Just read it!!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2012

    THE BEST BOOK EVER

    I had to read this book for school and it was amazing. I loved how the book is told from a 7year olds prespetive

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 1, 2013

    This was a fast paced, well written book. It would be sure to ca

    This was a fast paced, well written book. It would be sure to capture the attention of all ages. It does have some heavy content, as one would imagine, but is told through the eyes of a child. I can't wait to read the rest of this series!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A must read

    Despite the serious and sombre subject matter of this book, I really liked how it was told. Felix is also a storyteller and it's very fitting as his parents were booksellers. His naivete shows with the significance of finding a carrot in his soup, but as the book gradually progresses, he quickly matures. He also gradually finds out what's happening to his own people and this is where his naivete stops completely.

    Once Zelda comes into the picture, Felix becomes an unofficial guardian for her. She may seem annoying and does patronize Felix much to his annoyance, but she also has a secret that the reader does not expect until the last third of the novel. I thought this was an interesting twist and definitely unexpected. However it shows no matter who's side anyone is during times of war, everybody is a victim. I couldn't help but feel sad for Barney, I admire his bravery for protecting lost children, and in the end it was almost just too sad to read because his fate remains rather grim.

    The ending leaves for another book (it is a trilogy) and I think it's well worth picking up. The fate of Felix and Zelda are left out in the open and I'm curious as to know what will happen to them.

    It's a great book for middle grade children and informing them about the Holocaust through the point of view of a child. It's well written without the awful graphic details one might find in books containing this subject. I definitely do recommend this book for those interested in this subject and who want to teach younger children about it.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 19, 2011

    Too short but good

    Very good.book its too short 170 pages to be $9.99... Otherwise great read

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Very Good-really shows how children had a hard time surviving the Holocaust.

    Once I read a book about a boy named Felix struggling to survive during the Holocaust. The book was about friends, stories, and it brought of the question of understanding. Why did the author write about such a story, what was his purpose. Perhaps his purpose was to inform the reader of how difficult it was for children under the age of 13 to survive during the Holocaust. For example Morris wrote of how Felix the main character is put into a catholic orphanage by his parents to protect him from the Nazis because he was Jewish. You can tell Morris is showing how in the time of the Holocaust parents were hiding their children because they knew Nazis would end up killing the children if they were too young to work in slave labor camps. Morris also writes about how the Nazis during the Holocaust wouldn't hesitate to kill a child. Felix finds in an abandoned apartment an infant dead from bullets in a high chair. This shows how Morris is displaying the cruelty the Nazis had toward Jewish children. It also shows how being a child during the Holocaust was one of the hardest times to survive. Another observation I made from the text is when Zelda a friend of Felix's falls sick and has a very high fever. It shows how during the Holocaust if you were a Jew hiding from the Nazis it was hard to find treatment for illnesses making surviving very hard for Jewish children. I conclude by saying I believe Morris's purpose was to show how being a child during the Holocaust made surviving very hard because to Nazis you were worthless.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted June 12, 2011

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    Posted April 5, 2011

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    Posted June 17, 2011

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    Posted July 13, 2012

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    Posted December 27, 2010

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