Anna at War – Helen Peters

As you can imagine I read a huge amount of children’s books in a year. Often it is moments snatched between working or when my children disappear and I have a precious half hour to myself. But sometimes a book comes along that demands your full attention, insists that you just lose yourself in the story and before you know it you’ve read it from cover to cover with hours having passed by. ‘Anna At War,’ is one of these rare books, hauntingly beautiful and utterly devastating I devoured this in one sitting, totally compelled to sit still by Anna’s story. Children today are taught about the atrocities of the Holocaust and the horrors of World War Two but I’m not sure how much these facts teach them empathy about the experiences of those who lived and died during this horrific time. I shared an extract from ‘Anna at War,’ focusing on The Night of the Broken Glass,’ and I think hearing a personal account -albeit a fictional one- conveys the sheer terror for those who experienced persecution just because they were Jewish. This is why it’s so important that we share stories like these with our children today so we never forget.

Now on the surface it looks like Anna is one of the lucky ones, she escapes Nazi Germany on one of the last of the Kindertransport to England and is welcomed by a truly kind family. Despite missing her parents desperately she carries on the best she can, relishing any communication she has from her parents, relived that they are alive. But not everybody is welcoming to Anna. Her life at school becomes intolerable when war breaks out between England and Germany, isolated and accused of being a spy she becomes a virtual outcast. Yet when fate inadvertently puts her in the path of an injured soldier Anna is determined to prove to everyone that she can be trusted and soon she is caught up in dangerous web of betrayal and secrecy. Can she risk everything she loves to prove whose side she’s on?

This thrilling adventure contains just the right amount of fear and danger to enthral children, it is really compelling as we watch Anna risk herself to protect those who have taken her under her wings. Despite everything that has happened to her she is resilient and fearless. Anna is the kind of character who you lose your heart to and become inextricably bound to her story. You feel her pain and I found myself weeping throughout this book at the horrors and injustice that took place. I was utterly moved by this extraordinary story, it highlights so starkly how easy it is for our very neighbours to turn their backs on us. Hateful rhetoric is so influential when times are tough and it’s important for children to understand how easily people can be manipulated by lies. Prejudice and mistrust can appear in the most unexpected of places.  Helen has created a thoughtful and powerful story that shows that courage and bravery can succeed in the darkest of times.

Thank you to Nosy Crow for sending me a gifted proof copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ‘Anna At War,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

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