The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett (9/13/2011)

Like a roach it was sniffing its way into the smallest corners and lurking there; like a great storm it was sprawling out hugely, darkening the land. Everything it touched it tainted, making ordinary things different from how they’d been — making them difficult, and sometimes dangerous. Everywhere they traveled, Andrej felt the unease (p 125).

midnightzooAngrej and his younger brother, Tomas, are two young boys with a precious bundle in their care. As their gypsy band is attacked and taken away by German soldiers, Angrej and Tomas watch from a nearby wood. Their mother yells “Run, Children!” as she is led away so they run.

Their wanderings lead them to a village devastated by bombs where they discover a wonder: a small zoo with creatures who can talk. From these animals – a wolf, monkey, eagle, bear, lioness, seal, kangaroo, llama, chamois and boar – the children learn of the village’s and the animal’s misfortunes.

This fable is layered with story inside of story. The unifying conflict is freedom versus enslavement. As the boys and animals discuss the invaders (the Germans), they contemplate the reason for the violence.

Andrej recollected his courage, and remembered that the wolf was caged. He looked in the wolf’s eye and asked, “What is the reason, then?”
The wolf sniffed loudly, as if scorning, and sat down on its haunches. “The same reason there is for everything,” it replied. “I will have my way” (p 54).

This book has a strong atmosphere and the feeling I got while reading it was similar to that I get when reading Kate DiCamillo. The ending was fantastical and haunting. The back jacket recommends this book for ages 10 and up and I agree.

Advance Reader Copy | September 13, 2011 | Candlewick Press | ISBN 978-0-7636-5339-2 | 224 pages | $16.99

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