When their Romany camp is attacked, twelve-year-old Andrej, nine-year-oldTomas, and their baby sister, Wilma, hide in the woods. After everyone else is either shot and killedor taken away, the three children must survive on their own. They come upon a small zoo that has falleninto disrepair and discover that they can communicate with the animaloccupants. The animals share their suspicionsof each other and their understanding of what freedom means. Hartnett manages to give each of the animalsa distinct personality. She drawsreaders in, helping them understand the animals’ plight; they are locked intheir cages and, without their caretaker, they are starving. They tell the children about the girl whoused to care for them and long for her return. While an adult reader will recognize the setting as World War II Europe, the keywords a reader in the novel’s target age range might recognize asHolocaust-related are all absent, and much of the book is told from the perspective of animals, not people. Jewish experience during the war isn’tmentioned at all and a young reader wouldn’t necessarily make theconnections. Guided reading or discussionwith a parent or teacher would be valuable in helping readers get the most outof The Midnight Zoo. Recommended for ages 11 – 14.
Marci Lavine Bloch earned her MLS from the University of Maryland, a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA in English Literature from Fordham University. She has worked in synagogue and day school libraries and is currently finishing her term on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.