Once by Morris Gleitzman is a novel I had to read for school. After reading The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas with the hope I would get to teach it, a last minute book dilemma led to a change of heart, and I am incredibly glad it did.
Once follows the first person narrative of Felix, a young Jewish boy living in a Catholic orphange in Poland in the middle of the Second World War. Having received a vegetable related sign in his usual meagre ration of soup, Felix is convinced his parents are still alive, and so ventures forth from the safety of the orphange to begin a trek back home to find his parents, and hopefully discover why the Jewish bookselling business has taken a turn for the worse in recent years. Yes, hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing, and it is something I particularly relish as a reader. As Felix travels across Poland, he undergoes a transformation, from a naive and fanciful boy, to a young boy who has seen and witnessed first hand the true horror of the war as it ravaged through Poland.
Once is a beautifully written novella. As the novel progresses we see how Felix slowly comes to realise the atrocious realities of the war, and we see him grow up in front of our eyes. We feel his horror as he comes to realise that Hitler is not a good person, and that the Nazis don’t have something against booksellers in general, it is more to do with the fact they are Jewish. As with the The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas it is the childlike innocence of the narrator that I enjoyed the most, however I think I prefer how Once develops this innocence and offers the chance to explore what happens when this is shattered and the truth is finally brought to light. Stylistically, this novel really hit a note with me; I don’t know if that is because I had to read the opening chapters aloud, so I was very aware with how the text looked on the page, or if it is just highly noticable that sentences are overlong and almost rushed, as a child would say them, or they are incredibly short and placed on a separate line, as though they are reinfrocing a point, or reflecting the childlike wonderment of the statement. I cannot wait to explore these ideas with my class, although I have a feeling we will have a great deal to talk about in general with this novel.