Last summer I was sent a very early proof copy of the new novel by Morris Gleitzman, a sequel to Once, a book published at the same time as and – media-attention-wise – unjustly overshadowed by The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas.
I have always had the highest regard for Gleitzman and regard him as one of the very best writers for the young of the past twenty years.
For months that proof copy lay untouched. A second proof copy arrived. I did not read that either. I had, I realised when I finally started reading the book in its final published format, been nervous of encountering ten-year-old Felix again in case any further adventures had a reptrospective lessening of the impact of the first book, read with so much admiration.
Picking up from the end of the previous book, Felix is accompanied by six-year-old Zelda (not his sister) and from the first words, “Then we ran for our lives…” this is the story of how they together attempt to escape being captured by Nazis.
We see many atrocities through child’s eyes (the most painful of all at the end of the book) but there is sufficient good fortune and good deed-doing to make this an ever-hopeful edge-of-the-seat read. The character of Genia – a woman who makes her home a safe-house for Felix and Zelda, giving them different names – is strongly drawn and helps ground the central part of a novel which might otherwise, as its title suggests, have been a then-fortunately-then-unfortunately continuum.
Another grounding motif is the figure of Richamal Crompton, described by Carol Ann Duffy in The Ultimate Book Guide as ‘the patron saint of childhood’. Certainly, in this book the creator of William acts on more than one occasion as the guardian saint of Felix, helping him to avoid potentially fatal dangers.
Gleitzman’s style is always highly accessible, so this book can be highly recommended for any child who is ready to confront the horrors of Nazi tyranny. Thank heavens there is no age-banding on its cover.