A story of children in the Holocaust, Once is poignant and powerful without being frightening or graphic. With his gentle and utterly alive manner, Gleitzman reads the tale of Felix, a Jewish boy who runs away from the convent where his parents had him hidden and roams the countryside with an orphaned girl until they find their way to the cellar of a print shop in the Warsaw ghetto, where an old dentist has been protecting lost children. (From Goodreads)
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.
I give it a 9 out of 10.