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Publishers Weekly Review
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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal Review
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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
The horror of the Holocaust is told here through the eyes of a Polish Jewish child, Felix, who loses his innocence as he witnesses Nazi-led roundups, shootings, and deportations. After nearly four years in a kind Catholic orphanage, he runs away to find his parents. First he returns home, where he is chased away by new residents. Then he journeys to the city (that is, the ghetto), gets help from other fugitives, discovers the Nazis' incomprehensible brutality, and is forced into a train bound for the camps. Through Felix's traumatized, present-tense viewpoint, readers learn of the genocide, in which books and bodies were burned en masse, as well as one victim at a time, including a baby who is shot dead in its high chair. Most moving is the lack of any idealization. Felix rescues a lost little girl, but rather than idolize him, she fights and fumes: Don't you know anything? Felix escapes, but one and a half million Jewish children did not, and this gripping novel will make readers want to find out more about them.--Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2010 Booklist
Horn Book Review
Felix runs away from the Catholic orphanage where he's been kept safe the last three-plus years and treks across the countryside of 1942 Poland -- no place for a Jewish child, he soon realizes. With dawning awareness, Felix is witness to many horrors of the Holocaust: forced marches, ghetto life, senseless brutality, and, finally, a train ride to a death camp. Like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (rev. 9/06), this Holocaust parable plays its main character's naivet 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. Felix approaches life with a storyteller's imagination, and while the stories he tells himself to make sense of a crazy world are so naive as to strain credulity, the book is ambiguous as to what extent that ignorance is willful. In a similar vein, the disillusioned Felix of later chapters continues to invent a gentler world to console other children. 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. An appended author's note directs readers to the (online) primary source material that inspired the book. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Book Review
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 booksthese 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 heartGleitzman 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)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.