Author: Judith Kerr
Illustrator: None listed. The only illustrations are small ones at the beginning of each chapter. The author is an artist; she may have done the illustrations.
Publisher: Puffin Books
Audience: Ages 9-12
Summary: Anna lives in Berlin in 1933. She sees posters of a man named Adolph Hitler, but doesn’t know who he is. Her parents tell Anna and her brother that Hitler will make Germany unsafe for Jews like them. One morning, Anna’s father is gone. Her mother explains that he has left Germany and that the rest of the family will secretly join him in Switzerland soon. Anna and her older brother Max are allowed to take one toy or game with them; everything else must be left behind. Anna leaves her beloved pink rabbit. For the rest of the war, she imagines Hitler in their house, sitting on their furniture, eating their food, and playing with the toys and games she and Max had been forced to abandon. The family moves several times, always one step ahead of danger. They move to Switzerland, France, and England, learning new languages, and cultures and making new friends. Each move means more possessions are left behind. But as long as the family stays together, nothing else matters.
This book is partly autobiographical. The author lived in Berlin where her father was a drama critic before the rise of Hitler. Forced to flee in 1933, the family lived in Switzerland and France before arriving in England in 1936. The story of Anna is continued in The Other Way Round and A Small Person Far Away.
Literary Elements at work in the story: The time setting of this book strongly influences the book. Although young readers will not know details of Hitler’s “final solution” concerning the Jews, those events are seen through the eyes of a child. That point of view underscores the effect of political events on these confused small victims. Throughout much of the book, Anna sees Hitler’s policies as a personal attack on her family. She thinks Hitler has taken up residence in her house, is sitting on her furniture, and is playing with her toys. The theme of families needing to stick together in difficult times will also be understandable to young readers, especially those whose families may be facing challenging situations today such as homelessness and economic problems.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economic/ability: Anna’s family is Jewish. Even though they are not religious, they are none the less affected by the political situation. But the emotions and experiences transcend gender and other factors. Children of slave families escaping to the north, children of homeless families, refugee children—all would see their families’ plight as unique and personal.
Scripture: In the Old Testament, read stories of the Exodus and writings concerning the exile in Babylon. Jeremiah’s writings to the exiles and certain Psalms capture the difficulties faced by those who are forced to be refugees—“strangers in a strange land.” In the New Testament, look at some of Paul’s writings to the early Christians who were coping with religious differences and being religious aliens in a dominant culture.
Theology: community, family, hospitality, accepting of differences, coping with justice/injustice
Faith Talk Questions:
- In Chapter One, Anna tries to explain to her friend Elsbeth why she is Jewish, even though her family does not go to a special church on Saturday. It is because her parents and their parents were Jewish. What words could be used to describe you (loud/quiet, belonging to a particular church/having no religious beliefs, outgoing/shy, gender, race, economic status, abilities, etc.)? How do these words affect how people think about you? How do you judge people according to words that describe them? What does God think of us? Of people who are different from us?
- If you had to leave your homes suddenly, what is the one possession you would take with you? Why?
- While living in France, the family spends their summer holiday in Switzerland where they had lived before moving to Paris. Even though things are familiar, Anna feels like a stranger. Why? Tell about a time when you felt like a stranger even though you were in a familiar place or situation.
- On this holiday, Anna felt old and sad even though she was eleven. Why did she feel this way? Tell about a time when you suddenly felt older than your age.
- In Chapter Twenty-two, Mama and Papa are considering sending the children to live with their grandparents while they go to England to start a new life there. Anna objects because she doesn’t want to feel like a refugee. How is being a refugee different from feeling like a refugee?
- Did Anna have a difficult childhood? Explain.
This review was prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary graduate Mary Anne Welch.