The theme of this year’s Refugee Week is “You, me and those who came before”, inviting us to “to explore the lives of refugees – and those who have welcomed them – throughout the generations.” Refugee Week is also a celebration of the contribution of refugees to our societies. And so, with all those facts in mind, what better way to kick things off than with the late Judith Kerr‘s autobiographical trilogy, When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit, Bombs on Aunt Dainty and Small Person Far Away. These books are a great introduction for older children to what it was like growing up as a German Jew during the Second World War and what it means to be a refugee.
The books follow Anna and her family as they escape from Germany just before the Nazi’s come to power, the first book accompanying her across the border to Switzerland, France and ultimately England. At this stage of her life, this is all a big adventure and this book is full of exploration, new experiences and different languages.
The second book jumps ahead in time and finds the family now settled in London just as the Blitz is about to start. There is great frustration on the part of Anna’s brother, Max, that while he feels he belongs, his nationality keeps preventing him from being treated just like everyone else. In this book we see the reality of a family with very limited financial resources, living with the constant threat of great uncertainty.
The third book in the series jumps forward again. Anna is now married, her father is dead and her mother is back in Germany. A phone call saying her mother is ill leads Anna back to Berlin, bringing her face to face with her childhood memories.
All three books are very engaging and offer children a personal glimpse into a situation which, for them, is practically gone from living memory. I will be putting the first book on my 8 year old’s reading pile; however book number two, in particular, has a lot of references to bombs and destruction, which is probably more suited to the older reader.
A great legacy from someone who herself arrived as a refugee.
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