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News and views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
Issue 10 Winter 2009

Once and Then
Morris Gleitzman (Penguin, 2009 7.99)

First published as two books for children, Once and Then, these novellas have recently been combined and marketed as one title for adults. Certainly the subject matter Nazi-occupied Poland and the stunningly beautiful and gripping story-telling will move and challenge any age of reader, so it is to be hoped it will reach a wide and appreciative audience.

book cover

The story is told by Felix, a ten-year-old boy we first meet living in an orphanage. Quickly we discover that his positive, optimistic spirit, his prayers to God, Jesus, Mary, the Pope and Adolf Hitler and his lively imagination help him to create stories of hope for the future, which inspire him and his friends. He believes, for instance, that the whole carrot floating in his dinner bowl must be a sign that his parents are not dead but have come back for him. When it is apparent that they havent, he resolves to go looking for them, and little by little discovers something of the atrocities being committed by the Nazis against the Jews in Poland at that time.

Felix makes various friends and allies along the way, including six-year-old Zelda, and together they travel to find a safe haven, and new parents. Now their prayers to God and the Pope also call on Richmal Crompton, the author of the Just William books, and imagining her take on life gives them the inspiration they need to get out of their difficult situations.

This is an astonishingly amusing and entertaining read, while also being devastatingly sad. The courage and compassion shown by these characters, inspired by the true story of a Jewish doctors heroism, mean that this story will affect you and stay with you for a long time to come.