cover image The Midnight Zoo

The Midnight Zoo

Sonya Hartnett, illus. by Andrea Offermann. Candlewick, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5339-2

This somber yet not hopeless fable set during WWII offers a haunting portrait of families, human and otherwise, torn apart. Two Romany boys, 12-year-old Andrej and nine-year-old Tomas, flee with their infant sister after German soldiers arrest their relatives, discovering a bombed-out town with an intact zoo. Lindgren Award–winner Hartnett (Butterfly) combines powerful prose with magical realism to heighten this setting and develop the personalities of the animals that the boys meet, who begin to speak after another round of bombing. The group—including a silent eagle, a mischievous monkey, a lioness whose family has been taking from her, and a seal stolen from its mother as a pup—spend a charged night sharing stories. Offermann’s (The Boneshaker) delicate b&w drawings introduce each chapter. Hartnett doesn’t minimize the horrors the boys have seen, making a profound case for the futility of war while exploring questions about responsibility and freedom. “You are a mysterious animal, you know,” the bear tells the brothers. “A bear does what a bear must do to keep itself alive. But a man does many things that he has no need to do.” Ages 10–up. (Sept.)