Every now and then things fall into place so perfectly that I can’t help but smile. You see, for the past couple of days the caption “the book that made me” has been trending on my twitter feed and it really caught my attention. It’s no secret that I love reading, and books, but the idea that I could sit down and pick one book that MADE me seemed impossible. I like to think that I’m still being shaped, still continuing to ‘grow’ if you’ll pardon the cheesy phrase! I feel like I am more than the sum of one part and for that reason I don’t think I can say one book in particular made me who I am. I’ve read so many books, listened to so much music and generally been influenced by so many things that have brought me to this point and I’d like to think there’s still more to come. So instead I’d like to tell you about a book that I can definitively say made me love reading:
“When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” By Judith Kerr.
Here’s where things fall into place. As it happens, today is Judith Kerr’s 90th Birthday and so I can think of nothing better than to devote this post to her.
I have always enjoyed reading but I can’t really remember what I read before “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit”. I got it for Christmas one year and can remember being impressed by the front cover and intrigued by the title. I can’t remember my exact thoughts when I read it for the first time but I can remember wanting to read it again, and I did. So. Many. Times. Sometimes I’d finish the last page and go right back and start it again! That’s how much I loved it. I always wished there was more, so imagine my joy when, much later, I discovered it was the first part of a trilogy! Although, “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” remains my favourite.
It’s the story of Anna, a young German girl growing up in a lovely house in Berlin. It is however, 1933 and her father is a Jewish writer who has spoken out against Nazism. Looking back what was so clever about this book is the fact it is written from Anna’s perspective and so, as a reader, you see everything as a child sees it. This is such a good way to introduce this topic to children, and really resonated with me at the time. Anna doesn’t understand everything that is happening and is subject to all the regular frustrations of childhood, just under extraordinary circumstances. Due to this, there are scenes which are particularly poignant, like the one below:
“ I always knew we should have brought the games compendium” said Max, “Hitler’s probably playing Snakes & Ladders with it this very minute.” “And playing with Pink Rabbit!” Said Anna and laughed. But some tears had come into her eyes and were running down her cheeks all the same.” “Oh well, we’re lucky to be here at all,” said Max. “What do you mean?” Asked Anna. Max looked carefully passed her out of the window. “Papa heard from Heimpi,” he said with elaborate casualness. “The Nazis came for all out passports the morning after the elections.”
This sums up the way Judith Kerr expresses the entire novel as the plot follows Anna and her family as they flee, first to Switzerland, then to Paris, and then finally to London. On re-reading it recently I was amazed by how crammed it is with subtle hints and hidden tensions that I completely missed as a young child when I first read it. I found myself re-enthralled, knowing what I now know about the treatment of Jewish people in WWII. There were times when, even now, I held my breath and willed everything to be ok. That a children’s book still remains so powerful, even as to an adult, I think, attests to its magnificence. Even more so now that I know it’s based on Judith Kerr’s real childhood.
“When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” is important to me because is invited me to question things I’d never encountered before and introduced me to inequality and injustice without being too preachy or serious. It’s the first book that made me want to talk about what I’d read and it’s the only one I really think about when I think about childhood reading. If you haven’t read it I thoroughly encourage you to, whatever age you are!
Do you have a book that ‘Made’ you?
How has your reading shaped the person you are today?