Sunday, February 23, 2014

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Children's author and illustrator Judith Kerr's autobiographical novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit brilliantly captures what it must have been like for a young girl to have to flee her home on the eve of the Nazis rise to power.

Juith Kerr and her family fled Germany on the eve of Hitler's rise to power. Her father, Alfred Kerr, was a theatre critic and writer who was critical of the Nazis. He was on the top of the Nazi's list of persons whose passports would be revoked. Hence the family fled the day before the 1933 German elections were held. The next day, the family later learnt, the Nazis came to take all their passports.

The Kerrs first travelled to Switzerland, then France, and finally settled in England. Judith Kerr would find work in England as a screenwriter and designer. In 1968 she published her famous children's book The Tiger Who Came to Tea. More children's books followed, most notable the Mog series about a family cat. She decided to write about her experiences as a young girl fleeing Germany when her son remarked, after seeing The Sound of Music, 'now we know what it was like when Mummy was a little girl.'

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (1971) would form the first part of a trilogy of novels based on Judith Kerr's childhood, to be followed by The Other Way Around and A Small Person Far Away.

It seems impossible that the subject matter, a Jewish family running for their lives from the Nazis, could be made suitable for a children's novel, but it works. I wouldn't have any qualms about recommending this to a young reader. There's no real horror in it, but several key tragic events. Judith Kerr tells the story from the point of view of a pretty smart nine-year-old girl. For the young Anna, becoming a refugee and moving from country to country in search of safety is more of an adventure than personal trauma. Her parents protect her from the worst of things and try to make her life as normal as possible. There are even delights to be savoured, especially in France, where Anna enjoys the delicious food and beauty of Paris.

In the background, however, you know there is danger and a lot of stress for her parents. They argue from time to time and as the letters come in from Germany, they learn of friends who stayed behind who are having a very bad time indeed. Several time in the book, as Anna learns that she may have lost her country, that she becomes despondent and feels isolated. She knows technically that she's a refugee; her biggest fear is to actually start feeling like one.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is the absolute best in autobiographical fiction. Judith Kerr captures in a simple, straight-forward language, what it must have felt like as a Jewish refugee in the 1930s. You feel like you walk in little Anna's shoes every single step of the way in this very affecting story.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by Judith Kerr. Published by Harper Collins. ISBN: 9780007532834  RRP: $24.99