A beautifully written, moving and poignant story that is – and very much deserves to be – a timeless classic.
It’s Germany, 1933 and nine year old Anna has a dream – she wants to be famous when she grows up. Unfortunately nearly all the famous people she’s heard of have suffered from a difficult childhood and Anna knows that’s not her. She has a loving family with enough money. Her life is, however, turned upside down by Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. Anna’s told that she’s Jewish (her parents aren’t particularly religious so she was only dimly aware of this) and her dad is likely to be a target under a Nazi government. Anna and her family are forced to flee Germany and build a new life as refugees in Switzerland, then France and ultimately England. It’s a hard life, especially when money worries settle in, but for Anna and her brother it’s also an adventure. It’s, therefore, a long time before Anna realises that her experiences might actually count as a difficult childhood.
First published in 1971 and now an acknowledged children’s classic, I loved this book as a child but suspected that I might find it dated now. It’s not. In fact, the story probably has even greater relevance today given the number of child refugees and their families currently seeking new lives in Europe.
This is very much the autobiography of author Judith Kerr’s own childhood and this shows in the writing. We are immediately transported into the world of nine year old Anna, identifying with her concerns about schoolwork and irritating neighbours and, although written in third person, we experience the whole story through her eyes. I’m confident that this authentic children’s perspective will continue to appeal to a new generation of readers. As an adult revisiting the story, I was fascinated by this child’s eye viewpoint, especially the focus on the practicalities of learning a new language and adjusting to different cultural expectations. Anna proves herself very adaptable and this is evident in the way that, despite all the hardships, Anna persists in her belief that she hasn’t had a difficult childhood.
The story deals with important subjects in a clear, moving and age-appropriate way and has the potential to make children think about issues that remain as relevant today as they were in the 1930s. For example, the unfair prejudice that Anna and her brother encounter when a Nazi family come to visit the guest house they have made their home in Switzerland.
There are so many strengths in this book that I’m in danger of writing an essay rather than a book review but I can’t finish without mentioning the delightful illustrations that start each chapter. You don’t need to read the acknowledgements to recognise Judith Kerr’s distinctive style. (For those of you who don’t know, Judith is most famous for her picture books in particular the Mog series and the wonderful The Tiger Who Came to Tea.) I was also thrilled to find that Harper Collins have chosen to use Judith’s illustrations on the cover of this new edition.
Overall this is a beautifully written, moving and poignant story that is – and very much deserves to be – a timeless classic. Confident readers who enjoyed this might also like to try and more modern classic in Wonder by R J Palacio. Although aimed at younger audience, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is undoubtedly strong enough to interest older readers, from teen to adult, and these readers might want to check out another moving story based on the author’s experience in Girl on a Plane by Miriam Moss.
Publication date: June 2017
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s
Review first published on The Bookbag