Thursday, December 30, 2010

The midnight zoo by Sonya Hartnett

Each word in the Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett is like a drop of liquid gold. So breathtaking are her descriptions of place and character that you become immediately immersed in this ugly place – a city almost bombed out of existence. You need to take your time reading each word but the action is so breathtaking the story just rushes you along. As I go back now to write this blog I find that you can open any page in this narrative and find an exquisite piece of writing.

Here is an example so you can ‘see’ the city in ruins “Broken glass glittered on every surface, like fireflies caught in an appalling web of smashed furniture and cleaved stone. …It was dangerous … not everything that had fallen had arrived in its final resting-place yet”.

Each child and animal is seeking hope in this hopeless world. This is a fable about war, its futility and harm. But it is also about hope and freedom, about choices and true humanity, about trust and the importance of listening.

Please take the time to read this book but before you do you can hear an excellent commentary on the story recorded as part of the ABC Radio National book show.

I am not sure who is the intended audience for this book but I almost needed to postpone my everyday life so I could rush home to read the second half of this book started early one morning. The cover seems child-like (I think I like the Walker books one better) but this is not a book for a young reader and yet the messages are so universal it is important book for everyone. I guess for my library this book will be recommended to senior Primary readers although there are some distressing scenes Sonya Hartnett handles these swiftly so the reader is not left to dwell on the sadness but rather to see the light of hope.

The metaphor of night as black clad horseman immediately sets the mood. Tomas and Andrej are on the run carrying their bundles. Hartnett takes her time revealing the contents of these bundles along with the reasons for this war, the boy’s terror and the reasons for the existence of the midnight zoo. I love the way one little word gives you a hint for example those bundles … “Both boys carried sacks on their backs, the older bearing the weightier load, the younger charged with the more delicate.”

Ever since I read Taronga by Victor Kelleher, zoos have represented a level of terror and concern for me. I struggle with the idea of wild animals kept in cages away from their homeland, species and natural life. The zoo in this book is so important. Each animal has story to tell but equally each represents a different world continent – kangaroo, bear, llama, wolf, seal, lion and boar. The children themselves are also from a threatened species - they are Rom or gypsies.

I will make the prediction that this book will reach our Children’s Book of the Year short list and I would love to see it reach the Newberry judges too. This seems very possible since Sonya Hartnett is a highly acclaimed author and received The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2008 - an award very close to my heart!

If you have read books by David Almond such as Heaven Eyes or Skellig, or perhaps Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech, Tajore Arkle by Jackie French, The other side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo or After the First Death by Robert Cormier then you will want to read The Midnight Zoo.

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