Thursday, 31 March 2011

After 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit'.

As a child I adored books about children in the World War II. I loved reading about children evacuees and those escaping from the Nazis. The very best were by Joan Lingard and Michelle Magorian, the former telling the tale of a family from Lativia, in a series of books, who ended up in America and the latter in 'Goodnight Mister Tom' and 'Back Home' writing of different child evacuees both before and after the war. But perhaps the very best book of all was 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit' by Judith Kerr.

Kerr's book was magically evocative to me as a child and was so pitch perfect for me as a little ten year old who was both fascinated by the history of the war and intrigued by the lives of children other than myself. It told of Anna whose father was a prolific anti-Nazi writer in Germany before the war and who was blacklisted by the Nazis. The family managed to escape, leaving her pink rabbit behind en-route, and their attempts to create a life for themselves elsewhere. When I was about 15 or so I suddenly discovered that Anna's story was continued over another two books and eagerly rushed to buy them only to be horribly and crushingly disappointed. The second book depicts a young adult Anna who is in her late teens and sadly she has totally lost her sparkle just as the author has lost her flair. The book is deeply depressing in tone and although I can now (I am re-reading the second two out of nostalgia and also to give them a fairer read than previously) see that Kerr was attempting to write of Anna in a different style and one more befitting a young adult audience I still think she failed. The book is set during WWII, however, it could still have had cheerful overtones, or indeed have depicted young love in a more convincing and enjoyable way. I don't think it works as a book for young adults quite apart from the heroine losing all her panache.

The third book is the very worst of the lot. Horribly dull and depressing I am skimming through it quickly. Poor Anna... she was so very vibrant and fun and cheerfully delightful in the first book which is of course what made it so special. Hitler and the war crush all the fun and life out of her. Had the second book truly been written for young adults and the third for adults (it really doesn't work for young adults given its sombre tone) the trilogy would have been jolly interesting for I have never come across a series that did that. But the first is brilliant and the second two almost crush the memories one has of it for one grows up to find out that Anna has rather a ghastly life in the end, and that that wonderful joyeous girl grows up rather boring and dull. I really wish she had stopped after writing the first book.

Ultimately we don't want our heroine children to grow up, get married and become boring. Rather we want to remember them as the wonderful and interesting children they were, and also most importantly to believe that when they do grow up they will do amazing things with their lives. It reminds me so much of 'Anne of Green Gables' by L.M. Montgomery. She started off as a young girl and although the books continued and took her into adulthood they still worked, until the fateful day on which she got married. For poor old Anne didn't continue to delight all around her and enrich the lives of many by continuing to be a schoolteacher, oh no she stopped working as soon as she got that ring on her finger and then went on to have about six children. She got old and worn down and dull, a far cry from the intelligently precocious firey red-headed young girl whose future was filled with endless possibilities.

I suppose I related to both Anne and Anna as a child and so anticipated relating to their futures also, only to be sadly disappointed in the banality of their grown up lives. Child heroes should never grow up, but should remain like the little Fossil sisters in 'Ballet Shoes' with strong hints about incredible futures yet to come.

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