Wolf Children, by Paul Dowswell.
The book is set in the months just after the fall of Berlin in 1945. The victorious Russian troops have the city in an iron grip and the orphans of the Third Reich have largely been left to fend for themselves. The story follows a band of children and their struggle to survive; indeed, it opens with Otto and Helene stealing food from the Russians during the curfew hours – an extremely dangerous thing to do in a world where anyone could be shot on sight.
Berlin, at the time, was a cold, dangerous place (even during the summer months) filled with unexploded bombs and booby-traps. Few could be trusted. Is Doktor Holzman all he seems? Then there’s the sinister and mysterious Ernst... but I can say no more.
At its beating heart, this book hints at a love story. However, it’s more a love of life than a love of your life which is both clever of the author and far more acceptable to pre-teens. Otto and Helene hold together a rag-tag band of lost children living in a derelict basement of an old hospital. Their motivation isn’t school or the future, it’s simply to eat and survive. The settings in the book are brilliantly brought to life in a seemingly effortless way that speaks of endless research. Indeed, when I finished the book, I felt as if I had crawled out of the rubble.
For me, however, it’s Ulrich (Otto’s younger brother) who makes this book so good. Children like Ulrich had been brought up to believe in the Nazis. They had been told they were invincible, but by May 1945 their country had been crushed. What was left for the defeated? Here, in the heart of Ulrich, we glimpse the true battle: it wasn’t just a battle to understand right and wrong, it was a battle to understand what right and wrong actually meant. It raged long after the last bullet was fired and it is still (sadly) raging today in the hearts of many around the world. In my opinion, this book is a well-timed warning that nobody wins in war.
There are some major themes in this book: friendship, honesty, self-sufficiency and more. It should be, however, classed as a war story and on that understanding it makes it, in our opinion, suitable for both girls and boys of 12+. We give it a rating of 5 Yellowbirds out of 5!