Felix, a Jewish boy in Poland in 1942, is hiding from the Nazis in a Catholic orphanage. The only problem is that he doesn't know anything about the war, and thinks he's only in the orphanage while his parents travel and try to salvage their bookselling business. And when he thinks his parents are in danger, Felix sets off to warn them—straight into the heart of Nazi-occupied Poland.
To Felix, everything is a story: Why did he get a whole carrot in his soup? It must be sign that his parents are coming to get him. Why are the Nazis burning books? They must be foreign librarians sent to clean out the orphanage's outdated library. But as Felix's journey gets increasingly dangerous, he begins to see horrors that not even stories can explain.
Despite his grim surroundings, Felix never loses hope. Morris Gleitzman takes a painful subject and expertly turns it into a story filled with love, friendship, and even humor.
About the Author
MORRIS GLEITZMAN has been a fashion-industry trainee, frozen-chicken defroster, department-store Santa, sugar-mill employee, and screenwriter, among other things. Now he's one of Australia's best-loved children's book authors. His books have been published all over the world.
REVIEW SNAPSHOT®by PowerReviews
Reviewed by 3 customers
Displaying reviews 1-3
Comments about Once:
11 year old son really enjoying the story, easy for him to understand. He wants to read every night!
Comments about Once:
This book is so interesting. Felix (main character) thinks positive and is a good story teller. I love it how Morris Gleitzman writes under a childs perspective...GREAT BOOK!
Comments about Once:
I like that it is a quick read and I will be reading the rest of the series "Then" "Now" and "After"
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.)
After three years and eight months in an orphanage in the mountains, Felix finds a whole carrot in his soup—an extreme rarity. Believing the carrot is a message from his parents, he embarks on a journey through Nazi-occupied Poland to his former home. Unfortunately Felix has not been educated about the Nazi sentiment toward people of Jewish descent, and when he sees the Nazis burning books, he assumes their hatred is directed at booksellers. When he finally arrives in his hometown, he learns that everything has changed and a new family is living in his house. A courageous man named Barney appears to rescue Felix and brings him to a cellar to hide with other children. Barney is willing to sacrifice his safety, yet he cannot save the children from the trains that will carry them to the camps. It is not until the middle of the book that Felix begins to realize the Nazis do not hate Jewish books but Jewish people. Felix's naivete will likely remind readers of the narrator of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by Boyne (David Fickling Books/Random House, 2006/VOYA December 2006); despite the similarities, the first-person narrative is distinct, and Felix's journey will be a uniquely moving one for readers. The son of booksellers, Felix reveals his joy for storytelling in the way he crafts a beautiful narrative despite the gruesomeness of his surroundings. Even in the end, he maintains that he has been lucky for all the moments of delight he has felt, if only once. Reviewer: Amy Wyckoff
Although this is the story of a younger child, young teenagers will be captivated by Felix, a young Jewish boy growing up in a world he cannot understand. Each chapter begins with "Once," as Felix remembers happier times that he no longer experiences. As his story progresses, the memories shift closer to his current experiences. Felix runs away from an orphanage, thinking he will be able to return to his home and find his parents. But the new residents chase him from his home, and he is left alone. Felix is surrounded by death and destruction as he encounters violence and death all around him. At one farm, he finds a young girl alive in a scene of brutal death and begins to care for her. He helps her cope in the same way he copes himself, by making up stories and creating alternate realities. Readers will be able to see what is really happening to Felix and the other Jewish children long before the characters in the book. This provides readers a way to understand, on some level, what is unimaginable. The final words from the author ground the story in a tragic reality. Reviewer: Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Felix lives in Poland in 1942, and reading is his survival mechanism. Now almost 10, he was sent to a Catholic orphanage three years and eight months earlier by his Jewish bookstore-owning parents, and he's convinced himself that the sole reason he remains in hiding is because Nazis hate books. He's a natural storyteller, and when he finds a full carrot in what is typically a woefully thin bowl of soup, he fantasizes that it's a sign from his parents that they're finally on their way to take him home. When the orphanage is visited by surly Nazis instead of joyous parents, Felix escapes with only his cherished notebook full of his stories into the nearby countryside, still hoping for a family reunion. He soon discovers a burning home with two slain adults in the yard and their young daughter bruised but still alive. He takes Zelda on his journey, shielding her from the reality of her parents' deaths in much the same way he's been comforting himself, by inventing alternative realities. But, as he encounters the escalating ugliness of the death marches that are emptying his old neighborhood, now a ghetto, Felix becomes increasingly conflicted about the need to imagine a hopeful order and the need to confront brutal reality head-on. An easy first-person narrative in terms of reading level—and a good choice as a read-aloud—this Holocaust story also taps gut-punching power by contrasting the way in which children would like to imagine their world with the tragic way that life sometimes unfolds.—Jeffrey Hastings, Highlander Way Middle School, Howell, MI
When his Jewish parents place young Felix in an orphanage in war-torn Poland, they tell him that they must leave to fix their book business. Felix knows they will return. Curiously, one morning men in dark suits storm the orphanage and start burning books-these must be the people his parents have fled from. Others call these men Nazis; Felix doesn't understand. Determined to be reunited with his family and to save more books from being burned, Felix runs away. But during his travels he sees even more horrors: People are beaten, starved and shot. All because of books? Felix's misconceptions are heartbreaking, and readers will wince as he slowly and painfully gets closer to the truth. Packed with plenty of sadness, Felix's story is also touched with hope. He meets a kind-hearted man, loosely based on the real-life Janusz Korczak. A resonant shot to the heart-Gleitzman delivers a sharp sense of what it must have been like to be a child during the Holocaust, forced to grow up far too quickly. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)
For Ages: 13+ years old
For Grades: 5 - 6
Number Of Pages: 192
Published: 1st August 2005
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 13.0 x 0.500
Weight (kg): 19.0