Our History topic at the moment is Nazi Germany and World War Two. And as we like to do, we are extending our History into our English and reading LOTS of books set in this time period. We are doing a complete mix of how we read these books. Some books all three of us are reading independently (I like to read some of the books the kids read so we can discuss them together), one of the books we are reading as a family read (when we all sit together and read it together – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) and a few the kids are going to read by themselves and I will not attempt to read (realistically I have a lot to read as I am starting to do some prep work for my daughter’s Year 10 and 11). So there might be a lot of posts about World War Two literature over the next few months.
Waiting for Anya is a book that I selected from our local library 100% based on the fact that it is a Michael Morpurgo book. I just read the blurb on the back so knew it had something to do with Jewish children but that was really it ( so far I have never come across a Michael Morpurgo book that I have read and not been impressed with the characters and the story line). Well, it is an excellent book, everything about it makes it a brilliant read if you are learning about this time period.
The story is set in France in a small village where most of the people are shepherds. Most of the men of the village have gone away to fight the Germans and most of them ended up being captured and are currently prisoners of War. The main character is a lovable kid Jo who is just such a sweetheart character that you instantly start routing for him. One day while he is out looking after the family sheep a bear attacks the sheep, after the bear is killed he goes in search of his dog and discovers a bear cub. It is at this moment that a stranger arrives to help the bear cub, someone who Jo does not recognize which means he does not belong in the village. Anyway Jo ends up following him and soon discovers that the stranger is hiding out in a farm on the mountainside while he waits for his daughter. The stranger and his daughter are Jews and then were separated while they tried to escape. They made a deal that whatever happened if they were separated they would wait for each other on this farm. So he waits and waits and while he waits he helps other Jewish kids escape across the border to Spain. While all this is unfolding a set of German soldiers arrive in the village. I don’t want to give too much more of the story away but I do want to explain why I liked it so much.
The story gives you a glimpse of what life was like in France during World War Two. It talks about the hard aspects of living in German occupied France (getting your houses searched, having a curfew, being watched and listened to, potential of being shot) but in the story there is a German soldier who is kind and has children of his own. His character is written in such a way that you also get the understanding that not all Germans were happy about the way civilians and minorities were being treated. Near the end this German soldier realizes that Jo is involved in a escape plan (for the Jewish children) and he chooses to ignore it, thus giving both the Jewish children a chance and preventing Jo from being killed (if he was caught helping the Jewish children escape Jo would have been shot). There are sad moments, some people do die but it does end on a hopeful note (I did not think it was as sad as Private Peaceful).
It is not a particulary long story (187 pages) but I really do think it is a well written story, a story that deals with lots of sensitive issues in a very gentle understanding manner. I think it is probably one of Michael Morpurgo’s best works. I highly recommend this book.