Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

The Midnight Zoo

The Midnight Zoo

Spring 2012 Fiction
Ages: 10 & Up
Author: Sonya Hartnett
Illustrator: Andrea Offermann
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN: 9780763653392
Hardcover Price: $16.99

Twelve-year-old Andrej and nine-year-old Tomas are in trouble. They need food for themselves, and fresh milk for their baby sister Wilma, but most of all, they need a safe place to rest from their travels. Ever since the Germans rounded up their parents and the rest of their clan, leaving the two children hiding in the woods to run away, Andrej and Tomas have realized that the war is spreading everywhere. Few adults have any food to spare, and many are suspicious of Rom children and little inclined to help. But when the children pause in an abandoned zoo one night, they realize they have much in common with the caged, desperate animals, and gain a brief sense of the family they have been missing.

This is a beautifully meditative, quiet book that clears a space for reflection in the midst of horror. Children's books that reference the Holocaust rarely incorporate the fantasy genre, generally focusing instead on the historical aspects. This novel departs from that tradition; it beautifully incorporates the voices and the reflections of animals on the human devastation of war. The action (which is mostly storytelling) takes place within the span of one long night, a device which nicely compresses the emotional impact of the novel and makes the encounter between the children and the animals both magical and realistic in its intensity. This novel will appeal to a wide variety of children and adults, both those who enjoy historical novels and also those who like animal fantasy.

Naomi Lesley   ©2012 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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