Once and Then (2010, 2011) blend into Now in today's Australia as Dr. Felix Salinger, 80, relates his childhood and shows his present to his 11-year-old granddaughter, narrator Zelda.
What occurs in their todays smoothly links the old story of Felix's horrific childhood in Nazi-controlled Poland with sometimes-happy, sometimes-unpleasant events in a small bush town. The girl is staying with Felix because her physician parents are in Darfur to help its people through a modern genocidal catastrophe. Local girls bully Zelda in the opening scene, and readers should be shocked and frightened by this experience. When Felix meets the bullies, in his anger he says, "Don't you know anything?"—a sharp echo of the very young Zelda of decades ago. Today's Zelda is named for her, but it is a weight, since the girl of the present feels she cannot live up to that other, long-dead girl, hanged by the Germans for an act of defiance that allowed Felix to escape the noose. A bush fire of horrendous size, fury and speed tests the mettle of the two, and Gleitzman's description of it is brilliant in its realism. Readers of the first two books will recognize a great deal, and those who have not should read them to gain a fuller picture of the years before and those in which we live.
A fine, taut novel full of understanding. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 9-12)