Review Blog

Sep 16 2007

To the boy in Berlin by Elizabeth Honey and Heike Brandt

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2007
(Age 11-14) A brilliantly involving story, this sequel to The Ballad of Cauldron Bay, takes a totally different tack to its predecessor. Henni is intrigued when she finds several boxes of books in German underneath their holiday house, and leaves a note in them when they leave. When she receives an email from a boy in Berlin with a similar name to that of the house owner, she is thrilled. And so begins a friendship that spans the world. Leo is able to translate her finds as well as research the shipping lists in Germany.

The strong willed Henni returns to Cauldron Bay to stay with the shop owner to try and find out more about the Schmidt family. She is disturbed by the prejudice she encounters, but her efforts at tracing the family come to fruition and she is able to put some stories to rest. The Schmidts migrated to Australia prior to World War One and encountered prejudice which made them leave. It is a sad story reflecting the extent to which nationalism can create monsters out of ordinary people. In the same way Leo is finding it unfair that his friend, Felix, born in Germany, is being told to return to Namibia, a country he does not know. Leo hides his friend, and in the emails to Henni the reader can see that events are overwhelming the boys. Henni advises him to tell his uncle, and so gain help, bringing the story to an exciting climax.

The range of themes in this wonderful book will be a boon in classrooms where migration, refugees, war and prejudice are being studied. But along with the serious issues, the story is funny, the translations often miss out the meanings, the riddles the two send each other give a nicely timed laugh in the midst of a serious issue, and their relationships in the two schools give a neat contrasting backdrop to what is actually going on in their lives. Told in emails, the story has immediacy, and the emails make it easily accessible to today's students. Highly recommended.
Fran Knight

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