I have long been a fan of Morris Gleitzman's books. The newlywed was a huge fan in her tween years, too, and I even managed to snag her some autographed books at a long ago IRA conference. So, when I cracked open ONCE (Holt 2010) I was in for a surprise. Certainly, the cover and blurb let me know this was a book about the Holocaust. However, what no cover or blurb can tell you is that this is an incredible book, one destined to become a classic (IMHO).
Once a young man was placed in an orphanage by his parents to protect him. Once, this young man left the safety of the orphanage where he posed as a Catholic because the Jews in Poland were in danger. Once this same young man rescued a young girl named Zelda.
ONCE is the story of Felix and his quest to be reunited with his parents. Felix is naive about what is occurring in his native Poland to those who, like him, are Jews. However, he comes face to face with the awful truth, the truth about his parents, about his neighborhood, about the Nazis. Gleitzman has crafted a story that is about the power of stories. If this sounds reminiscent of THE BOOK THIEF, it is not that story. It even sounds a bit like THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS. It is not that story either. It is a unique take in a unique voice. The use of the word "once" is key here. Felix's stories all begin with the word "once," but that word appears elsewhere, used by other characters. It carries with it some import for such a tiny word.
POSSIBLE READING LADDER RUNGS
THE BOOK THIEF
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS