This heart-breaking story is subtitled A Refugee Boy and his Dog and is told by nine-year-old Rudi, a German Jewish boy, who is sent to England for safety in early 1939 via the Kindertransport. The book originally appeared in the US and has now been published for UK readers by Otter-Barry Books. Rudi’s beloved dog Hanno also makes the journey to England, with the help of a sympathetic lorry driver, and, after quarantine, the two are reunited at the home of Rudi’s foster family in London. Rudi and Hanno then face the trauma of separation again with the government instruction that pets be euthanised at the beginning of the war due to bomb threats and rationing. Rudi manages to join with a group of local children who plan to hide pets safely then find refuge for them until the end of the war.
This book is strongly empathetic as the author conflates two aspects of the pre and early war years, the Kindertransport programme and the “great pet panic”, to focus on the fear, confusion and sense of displacement and loss felt by children in wartime. Rudi’s direct, child-centred narrative voice compellingly portrays the feelings of a child refugee facing the loss of everything familiar. It has a modern resonance for the plight of child refugees all over the world.
The combination of simple text and gentle illustrations by Karin Littlewood make the difficult themes of loss, dislocation, and necessary resilience accessible to younger readers. There is extra background information at the end of the book. There are no easy resolutions to Rudi’s story as he and Hanno still face indefinite separation, but hope, courage, and resourcefulness, as well as loss and fear, play a large part in this moving story.