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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Audio Book Review: Once by Morris Gleitzman

This is a remarkable story of occupied Poland lived through the eyes of a story telling young boy.
By Morris Gleitzman
Read by Morris Gleitzman

Published by Bolinda Audio
Series: Once Series, Book 1 
Published:    August 01 2005 
Read by:    Morris Gleitzman 
Number of CDs / Tapes:    3 
Duration:    3 hours  
Available Date:    August 01 2005 
ISBN:    1740949021 

Genre:    Fiction; Childrens
My Rating: 4.25 of 5.0

Felix lives in a convent orphanage in Poland. He is convinced his parents are still alive and that they will one day come back to get him. When Nazi soldiers come to the orphanage Felix decides to escape and make his way home.The journey to find his parents is a long and difficult one, as Poland is occupied by the Nazis and a dangerous place for a Jewish boy. Felix manages to live and look after himself and another orphan, Zelda, with the help of a kind dentist, Barney, who is hiding and looking after a number of Jewish children. When the Nazis discover them, Barney makes the ultimate sacrifice for the children – electing to go with them on the train to the death camps, rather than taking the option of freedom offered by a Nazi soldier, one of his grateful patients.

"Once I was living in an orphanage in the mountains and I shouldn't have been and I almost caused a riot." And so opens a surprising, fictional tale to paint a picture of the Holocaust as seen from the eyes of a child.

Felix is a young boy living in a convent orphanage in Poland. He is a great story teller creating "once upon a time" bright tales to cheer the other children. Felix believes that his parents, who owned a book store, will be returning for him any day. One day Nazi soldiers come and he sees them burning books in front of the building. This sets Felix on a frenzy to find his parents and save the books in their shop from the book-burning Nazis.

Felix leaves gifts, a whole carrot and a treasured storybook, to his friend in the orphanage and sneaks away. It is dangerous enough for a young child in the woods and along the empty paths but he doesn’t have any understanding how dangerous it is for him, a Jewish boy. Felix makes it to the town only to discover that his parents shop and the home above have been taken over by others. The books are gone and the new people are ready to turn Felix in to the Nazis.

Felix heads off to the city and along the way stumbles upon a farm where he hopes to find welcome and food. To his horror he finds dead chickens and dead people. But the little girl is alive and he runs off with her as his new charge to protect. Felix and Zelda see many people being herded into the city by Nazi soldiers. He doesn’t understand but tells Zelda they are going to city to find their parents.

In the city Felix and Zelda are hidden with other children by a brave dentist, Barney. They struggle along in the basement until Nazis discover them and push them out to the trains. Barney could stay to secretly treat the Nazi soldiers but he decides he must go with the children. In spite of the trauma and horribly cramped conditions, Felix finds a way to share. But are they all doomed to travel to the death camps or is there a chance for escape?

This short, quicl story is wonderfully and remarkably set out from the view of a young boy with a great imagination, a sweet naivety and an unsinkable determination. The horrors of the occupation are subtly told but visual enough to be chilling. I would say the delivery and story are 'delightful' except that is not an appropriate word for the gravity of the setting. I recommend this to those who like  history, especially told from a different perspective and with a child’s wonder.

Audio Notes: Morris Gleitzman does a marvelous job reading the story as the young boy Felix. He manages to express the myriad emotions of friendship, confusion, fear, tenderness, horror and more. His reading made the story even more poignant and alive.
I received this audio from the 2013 summer SYNC YA program. I am so glad for SYNC as otherwise I would not even know about this book.


  1. I've never heard of this book, and am not a big fan of historical fiction, but it does sound like one I'd enjoy. I think the aspect of the little boy wanting to find his parents even though the journey will be a very dangerous one is what appeals to me.

  2. This is a new author to me, so I will have to look into this. This story sounds interesting to me. I have added this to my list to get.


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