In the summer of 1945, a group of children were brought to England to stay in the Lake District. They had all been subjected to the horrors of concentration camps in Europe; every child had lost multiple family members and friends to the war. In England, they had finally been brought to a place where they could begin to recover. However, they would find this would take a lifetime – there is no way to stop being haunted by their experiences, even if it lessens over time.
Yossi, Leo and Mordecai have all arrived at the Lake District together and begin to find a way to adapt their lives from the ones they thought they’d have before the war. Yossi wants to get his physical strength back; Moredcai is more committed to his faith than ever; Leo has found more independence than he’s known in years. They’re now each others family and want to move their lives on together, but will they all choose the same path?
Tom Palmer is known for his historical stories which focus on the war. I’ve previously read Over the Line, D-Day Dog & Armistice Runner, all of which were presented in an emotive, sensitive way which showed children a genuine glimpse at what the war was like whilst being accessible to their understanding. I’ve enjoyed every one of his books so far, so expected After The War to be no different.
Except it was. It might be because I’ve recently visited Auschwitz, or, more likely, it was the brilliant way this book was written, which made it so much more emotional than his previous offerings. I cried several times reading the story – which are based on real historical accounts – of the children who escaped the concentration camps. It was so well written that – although we can never imagine or put ourselves within this experience – it made the reader really develop an emotional connection to the characters and what they went through.
I truly believe that it is important children learn of the Holocaust and how harrowing this period in history is, in order to prevent anything like this happening again. It shows them how dangerous prejudices can be, as well as teaching them compassion. (And, to be honest, I feel everyone should visit Auschwitz at least once in their lives. It was such a humbling experience which really taught me huge amounts). Tom’s book not only helps with this, but does so in a way which helps children build empathy and understanding of something which is quite a difficult subject to comprehend.
The characters created, which are based on some real documented experiences, feel authentic and are well developed. Alongside the three main characters, there are some important interactions they have with ‘supporting’ characters from both the surrounding community and beyond. I really liked that it was included that there was still prejudice in England towards the Jewish community; England wasn’t painted as a solely peaceful country for them to escape to. It is important to recognise this.
I really do believe this is a book that should be on every classroom shelf. I know I’ll be using extracts myself around during Holocaust Memorial, alongside factual accounts and poetry to help children begin to access the topic.
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