The Emergency Zoo is a new book by Miriam Halahmy aimed at children aged 9-11, inspired by real events during the Second World War.
The story follows twelve year old Tilly and her best friend Rosy. In late August 1939, Britain is on the brink of war, and amongst the uncertainty people are encouraged to have their pets taken to the vet to be put down. When Tilly and Rosy find out that their parents are going to take their beloved dog and cat they are devastated.
The two girls decide to take action by hiding their pets in a derelict hut in the woods, and when other children find out about their plans their secret den turns into an emergency zoo for all sorts of animals from all sorts of backgrounds. But the children are due to be evacuated from the city themselves, and who will look after their pets when they have gone?
The story begins just before war is declared, and captures the fear of what is going to happen faced by the ordinary people. The book covers quite mature themes, for example bereavement, the prospect of evacuation away from parents, the terrifying dangers of bombing raids, and so it's probably one to keep for older readers (although of course these are all things that young children did have to deal with at the time!).
Events are seen from the childrens' points of view, studying their feelings towards them, along with their relationships with each other. Although the war has only just begun when the story begins, the book finishes on a positive note, and I'm sure that children would be left encouraged to look for other books set during this period in history in order to learn more. I think it would also fascinate children today to read about a time when quite young children were trusted to play away from home together for hours at a time, often into the evening, with their parents having no idea what they were up to!
I enjoyed reading this book as an adult, and would definitely recommend!
I received a copy of this book to review.