Review: Once by Morris Gleitzman

I came across this novel in an article called “The problem with “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” on the Holocaust Learning website here 

In that article it explores the John Boyne novel and how teachers might introduce it in class. It is well worth a read if you are using it or currently using it. I like the way the article does ban the book but instead offers interesting viewpoints for a teacher to look at the novel and how it relates to historical fact and why that is so important. 

This article also lists books that are recommended as best practice in terms of teaching about the Holocaust and primary school students. I immediately purchased all these books and started “Once” as my first one to get stuck into!

This novel was published in 2005, It is a children’s historical fiction novel written by Morris Gleitzman. It is set in Poland during World War II, and it follows Felix, a 10-year-old Jewish boy who is hidden from the Nazis in a Catholic orphanage, as he tries to find his parents. The author was inspired by the true story of the Polish-Jewish author Janusz Korczak during the Holocaust. Korczak is the inspiration for the character Barney, who gives up his life to try to save Jewish orphans. It is written completely through the eyes of a child, Felix.

I found the novel compelling, entertaining, touching, emotive and excellent. It is a short read, chapters are short and it is packed with humour and sadness at the correct times in the correct way in terms of bringing to a class of primary school students. An adult can read this as well as a child. I would recommend it to a 5th Class toward the end or even better a 6th Class towards the end of their time in primary school because of the shocking material, which, in fairness, is dealt with sensitively and with care but does not run away from historical fact.

It contains wonderful themes of storytelling throughout and it is indeed a literary children’s novel but also has incredible plot and characterisation. I really enjoyed it and felt empty after I finished it and thought about it every day.

This novel would be good as a class novel or to supplement any work in the area of 5th/6th Class SESE, namely history as well as language. The Crocus Project culminates its work in January for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.