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In some ways, Once is a new departure for Gleitzman. He is known for an idiosyncratic view of the dilemmas of contemporary childhood. And Once, you might say, is an historical novel, set in Poland in 1940. His previous books have touched wittily and poignantly on social and emotional issues. But Once is about the Holocaust. So, should we expect a new, perhaps a more directly serious, voice? If we do, then the first page swiftly puts us right. Felix may be the son of Jewish booksellers, hiding out in a Catholic orphanage in the middle of Europe sixty years ago, but he speaks to his readers like any other child they might meet in the playground, talking about what’s in his school dinner, including rat poo and ceiling plaster. It’s his dinner that alerts us to the fact that, if Felix sounds like the kid from round the corner, his life is very different. The presence of a whole carrot in his soup is such an extraordinary event that Felix believes it could be life changing. It is, although not in the way he expects; as he leaves the orphanage, and witnesses atrocity after atrocity in a harrowing journey that takes him to the Warsaw ghetto and finally in the trucks to the death camps. Felix begins as an innocent, and some of his modern readers may well know more than him as, at first, he fails to understand what is happening in the world outside the orphanage. Yet the effect of Once is that of placing the sensibility of Gleitzman’s present day readers – children from the modern comfortable developed world – in the midst of events that are beyond their emotional experience. Each chapter of Felix’s conversational account begins ‘Once…’; but it is all told in the present tense, with an intense immediacy, as if time has been telescoped. To write a book for children about the Holocaust is a considerable challenge. To write a book like this, which insists on the relevance of history to the present, which is funny and tragic, which acknowledges unimaginable cruelty but is ultimately life affirming, and which is all within the grasp of ten-year-olds, is a real achievement. CB