With unwavering faith in her Creator and help from newfound friends, plucky Hennelie hamster escapes abuse to search for a better life in the beautiful Bushveld of Africa.
Newcomer Ziehl’s sweet—but predictable—Christmas tale begins in a pet store in Harare, Zimbabwe. A spoiled boy and girl relentlessly plead with their grandmother to purchase two hamsters, who are then plopped into a small, cold cage and named Hennelie and Harry. The hamsters end up in a farmhouse, and their cage is left in a depressing, windowless room. For Hennelie, the worst thing of all is sharing the cage with hateful Harry, as he torments and physically abuses her. To make matters worse, Hennelie is pregnant (Harry is the father), and she fears for her babies’ lives. Summoning up her courage and faith, Hennelie squeezes through the cage bars and makes her way outside, a place also rife with dangers for a hamster, such as the infamous “serial killer,” Wild Cat. Farm animals help Hennelie find the security gate leading to the world beyond the farm, where she eventually traverses the glorious African Bushveld in search of a home before her babies arrive. Author Ziehl encourages the entire family to partake in her optimistic message of perseverance during hardship, but older children could navigate the simplistic text on their own. Though the story has a strong theme of faith that echoes biblical verse, an underlying theme is faith in the self. For example, during a dark time when Hennelie is losing hope, a helpful horse encourages her to think of all she has accomplished. The book could also serve as a lesson in helping others, caring for pets and having respect for wild animals. Hennelie’s journey and the conclusion are somewhat pedestrian and hardly surprising, but a couple of colorful regional characters are introduced—e.g., the chongololo (giant African millipede)—and a kindly owl’s lecture on trees, plants and flowers paints a short but pleasant portrait of the landscape.
A quick, cheerful holiday read.