In a bombed town, two gypsy boys discover a zoo where abandoned animals teach them the meaning of freedom amid war’s chaos.
After witnessing their Romany caravan, including their parents and uncle, callously demolished by soldiers two months earlier, 12-year-old Andrej and his 9-year-old brother Tomas flee with their baby sister into what seems to be the European countryside of World War II. Trusting no one, they travel by night to avoid soldiers and civilians who hate them because they are Roms and “different.” Even though “fear beat inside Andrej like a dark, angry bird,” he tries to appear “calm and undaunted for Tomas, as if the precarious life they lived was unexceptional, and held no terrors at all.” When the boys find a mysterious zoo with a talking lioness, bear, wolf, chamois, eagle, boar, seal, llama, monkey and kangaroo, they share their meager food and stories with these fellow war victims. Helplessly trapped, the animals long for freedom but fear the unknown as Andrej tries to release them. Written in lyrical, spare prose, the plot encompasses a single night in which doomed animals and brave boys cling to hope in a world that makes no sense. Black-and-white spot art highlights animals and key scenes.
An evocative story about unusual war victims whose enduring belief in goodness brings true freedom. (Fable. 10 & up)