Ramona and I are still reading about World War II. The other day we finished When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. She loved it, and I do, too (as did my older girls.) It's a lovely, moving, and sometimes funny book that explores one family's experience. (There are just two incidents that would be disturbing for sensitive children -- if you are doing this book as a read-aloud, you should see them coming and so can handle them accordingly.)
The story is based on the life of the author, Judith Kerr, whose family, thanks to her father's foresight, fled Germany in 1933 when she was ten years old. They subsequently lived in Switzerland, France and England, where Judith Kerr still resides. (She's 91! I must tell Ramona! We must write to her and tell her how much we love the book!)
The protagonist, ten year old Anna, is a writer, like her father:
Lately she had been producing a number of illustrated poems which had been much admired both at home and at school. There had been one about a fire, one about an earthquake and one about a man who died in dreadful agonies after being cursed by a tramp. Why not try her hand at a shipwreck? All sorts of words rhymed with sea and there was "save" to rhyme with "wave" and she could use the three new blue crayons for the illustration. She found some paper and began.
Soon she was so absorbed that she did not notice the early winter dusk creeping into the room ....
Anna's father is a wise man and a marvelous mentor. Ramona and I loved this sage writerly advice:
Anna said, "Papa, do you really like the poem?"
Papa said he did.
"You don't think it should be more cheerful?"
"Well," said Papa, "a shipwreck is not really a thing you can be very cheerful about."
"My teacher Fraulein Schmidt thinks I should write about more cheerful subjects like the spring and the flowers."
"And do you want to write about the spring and the flowers?"
"No," said Anna sadly. "Right now all I seem to be able to do is disasters."
Papa gave a little sideways smile and said perhaps she was in tune with the times.
"Do you think then," asked Anna anxiously, "that disasters are all right to write about?"
Papa became serious at once."Of course!" he said. "If you want to write about disasters, that's what you must do. It's no use trying to write what other people want. The only way to write anything good is to try to please yourself."We liked Anna and her entire family immensely. I enjoyed her mother's trials as she learned to cook and sew, and we were amused by Anna's (initially) underachieving older brother, Max, who met the word count on his school essays by padding them with long lists of the foods his characters ate. In every essay the feasting ended with, "And then they all burst."
We identified with many things that reminded us of our homeschooling life. For example, I love the following passage about studying history. Anna's father has just asked her what she learned about Napoleon, and she's rattled off an impressive list of dates and events:
"What an extraordinary way to learn about Napoleon," said Papa. "Is that all you know?"
"But it's everything!" said Anna, rather hurt, especially as she had not made a single mistake.
Papa laughed. "No, it's not everything," he said, and settling down on her bed he began to talk about Napoleon. He told the children about Napoleon's childhood in Corsica with his many brothers and sisters, about his brilliance at school and how he became an officer at fifteen and commander of the entire French army at the age of twenty-six; how he made his brothers and sisters kings and queens of the countries he conquered but could never impress his mother, an Italian peasant woman. "C'est bien pourvu que ca dure," she would say disapprovingly at the news of every new triumph, which meant, "It's good as long as it lasts." Then he told them how her forebodings came true, how half the French army was destroyed in the disastrous campaign against Russia, and finally of Napoleon's lonely death on the tiny island of St. Helena.
Anna and Max listened entranced.
"It's just like a film," said Max.
Later, Anna's parents consider sending the children to live with their grandmother while they search for housing and work in England. Anna panics, fearful that the family will split up.
"It's just that I think we should stay together," she said. "I don't really mind where or how. I don't mind things being difficult, like not having any money, and I didn't mind about that silly concierge this morning -- just as long as we're all four together."
"But Anna," said Mama, "lots of children leave their parents for a while. Lots of English children go to boarding schools."
"I know," said Anna, "but it's different if you haven't got a home. If you haven't got a home, you've got to be with your people." She looked at her parents' stricken faces and burst out, "I know! I know we have no choice and I'm only making it more difficult. But I've never minded being a refugee before. In fact, I've loved it. I think the last two years, when we've been refugees, have been much better than if we'd stayed in Germany. But if you send us away now I'm so terribly frightened ... I'm so terribly frightened ...."
"Of what?" asked Papa.
"That I might really feel like one!" said Anna and burst into tears.
As someone who felt like a nomad much of her life (I grew up in an Air Force family, and Atticus and I have moved a number of times) I loved this illustration of how very little where we live can mean to us, and how much -- everything, really! -- family means as a way of defining whether or not we are "home."
A highly recommended book.