On their way to a Nazi death camp, Zelda and Felix decide to jump off the train and escape into the woods. Although technically not related to Felix, six-year-old Zelda has become part of his family and he feels the need to protect her. He devises a plan that involves finding a friendly adult and joining their family, but Felix must be wary of adults that would turn him and Zelda in to the Nazis for the reward. However, once the duo finds Genia, a kind-hearted woman who agrees to shelter them, their troubles are far from over. This gripping and heartbreaking story will have readers yearning to take lively Zelda and loyal Felix into their own home. Although a sequel to Once, Then can easily be picked up as a powerful standalone read. Ages 11-14
Recommended by Carrie Shaurette, New York City Librarian
This devastating sequel to Once (Henry Holt, March, 2010) picks up just as Zelda and Felix hold hands to jump off the freight car bound for a concentration camp – exactly where Once ended. They hit the ground unscathed and Felix is amazed that his glasses are intact. The machine gun fire from the roof of the train misses them; but a third child is not so lucky. The two survivors scramble up a hill, desperately trying to find cover from the machine gun fire; but, Felix is just 10 and Zelda is only 6. She is slower than Felix and he is trying to be patient.
In Once, each chapter began with the word, "once," and Felix was quite a naive narrator, who relied on the power of storytelling to deal with his horrific reality. He was also really, really lucky. His luck continues in Then; but he's not so naive anymore. Each chapter begins with the word, "then."
The children have no idea where they are. Soon they hear the burst of gunfire and they stumble upon a mass grave of children, who have been machine-gunned by the Nazis. As they flee from the Nazis with machine guns, they are picked up by a man in a cart filled with potatoes, but Felix spies a sign that says the man is hunting Jews and he thinks he sees a dead child buried beneath the potatoes. They flee this man and stumble upon the farm of Genia, a woman who doesn't appear sympathetic to the Jews, but who takes the two children in, calls them her niece and nephew and renames them Violetta and Wilhelm.
Zelda is still too spunky and outspoken for her own good. She does a great job of memorizing the story that Genia wants them to memorize, but when the Nazi soldiers appear in town, she makes no secret of her hatred for them. The tension is ratcheted so high in this story that, like Felix, the reader has no idea whom to trust. Some readers may anticipate the climax, but this reviewer didn't really see it coming. There were tears.
Where Once might be used with a slightly younger readership, Felix's awakening to the reality of his situation is reflected by more graphic descriptions of Nazi atrocities. Felix still relies on the power of storytelling when dealing with Zelda. Secondary characters are truly memorable as well. Then a definite must-purchase for school and public libraries.
Recommended by Brenda Kahn, Librarian, New Jersey