Review Blog

Nov 16 2020

We are wolves by Katrina Nannestad

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ABC Books, 2020. ISBN: 9780733340888.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Liesl (aged 11), Otto (aged 7) and Mia (nearly 2) Wolf, are German children who must escape from their home as the Russians advance at the end of World War II. As patriotic Germans they have been taught to speak positively about Hitler and assume that his plans are good. When finally their father is co-opted as a soldier along with many of the remaining men of his East Prussian village at the final stages of the war they start to get glimpses that all is not well. The advance of the Russian Army means they must escape in haste, initially with their Mama, Opa and Oma. But after Oma and Opa choose to remain in a barn and following a mishap on a frozen lake, it is just the children left to survive, living with the hope that they will see their Mama again. Their survival as 'wild' children is phenomenal as they must make hard choices and choose alliances to enable them to keep going. Eventually they seek refuge in Lithuania but must shed all traces of their German history and identity and 'adopt' a new family existence. The love they have for each other and their ability to see joy amid the horror of their wild existence owes much to the simplicity of Mia and her naive view of the world. Otto barely has time to be a child and Liesl must act on behalf of her siblings in ways that reveal that she has been forced to grow up much too quickly. But will they ever see their old family again? Is there hope in the horrors of the aftermath of war or must they lose everything to stay alive?
This is a serious story, akin to Gleitzman's Once or Boyne's The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, written in a naive voice about the circumstances of war for children. Based on the truth of the stories of other 'Wolfskinder' of this time, the Wolf children's account is a reminder that victims of war are sometimes very young. Katrina Nannestad is known for her tales of quirky children in comedic circumstances, but this very dramatic tale is a step into a much more serious approach to story writing. But she still manages to exercise her light touch as she uses Mia's very unsophisticated approach to life to inject some moments of lightness into a story filled with pathos. This is a joy to read, but tears threaten to fall at various moments as the reader struggles with this small Wolf pack in their journey of survival. Older readers will also enjoy this book for its insights into the German experience at the conclusion of World War II.
Themes: World War II; Resilience; Children in War; Family; Hope; Survival.
Carolyn Hull

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