An impactful and moving Second World War story that has a huge amount of modern resonance.
It’s 1939. Anna and her parents are Jews living in Nazi Germany. Most of their Jewish friends have already left the country but the Schlesinger family keep hoping things will get better. It’s only when Papa’s business is taken from him and he is briefly interned in a concentration camp, that they realise they must get out. Unfortunately, it looks like they may have left it too late. Desperate to ensure her safety, they send Anna on one of the last trains leaving for England. Anna promises to be strong. She makes a pledge to find her parents work so they can join her in England. Life as a German refugee, however, proves to have many challenges, especially when Anna and the two children in her foster family discover a secret that could change the course of the war.
The book opens in a modern-day school with a teacher asking his new Year 6 whether they know anyone who lived through the Second World War. Daniel knows his Gran left Germany just before the war but doesn’t know any more so decides to ask. This first chapter is a plot device to lead modern readers into this historical story. However, I’m not convinced it’s necessary: for me, the story really took off in chapter two when it switches to Anna’s first-person voice. (Although the structure does allow author, Helen Peters, to cut back to Anna on her 90th birthday and to introduce a perfect birthday surprise – a gift to Anna that brought tears to my eyes and provided a strong and uplifting end to the story).
The narration from Anna’s perspective is straightforward and yet incredibly powerful. Anna is easy to identify with even though the challenges she faces will be so alien to most readers. It’s almost impossible not to admire Anna for her strength of character when rising to these challenges, particularly in the scenes set in Nazi Germany. The description of the “night of broken glass” is especially impactful as is Anna’s journey to England on the Kindertransport. Throughout these sections there is also good use of human-interest details, such as Anna’s determination go rescue Uncle Paul’s cat and when she ends to up looking after a baby on the train and has to figure out how to change a nappy. Once we leave Germany, there is less dramatic tension but still plenty of interest and intrigue for middle grade readers (not to mention a fun cameo by Winston Churchill).
While set during the Second World War, the story has a huge amount of modern resonance, particularly in the scenes in which Anna is treated as an outsider by the other children – first in Germany where she is ostracised for being Jewish and again in England where the children accuse her of being a German spy. The plot contains a clever twist on this idea but to tell you more could spoil your enjoyment of the book. Instead, why not get hold of a copy and find out for yourself?
If you enjoyed this, I’d definitely recommend you read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr. Or, for a more recent but equally moving story of a child caught up in the horrors of war, why not try No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton.
Publication date: July 2019
Publisher: Nosy Crow