cover image Once


Morris Gleitzman, . . Holt, $16.99 (163pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-9026-0

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.)