Saturday, 18 June 2016

Guest Blog Post: The Emergency Zoo by Miriam Halahmy (Children's, 9 years +)

May 2016, Alma Books, 254 pages, Paperback, Review copy

Summary from Alma Books
When the war comes, who will save the animals?

It is late August 1939: Britain is on the brink of war, and preparations are under way to evacuate London’s children to the countryside. When twelve-year-old Tilly and her best friend Rosy find out that they will not be able to take their beloved dog and cat with them – and that, even worse, their pets will, along with countless other animals, be taken to the vet to be put down – they decide to take action. The two girls come up with the idea of hiding them in a derelict hut in the woods and, when other children find out and start bringing their rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters, their secret den turns into an emergency zoo.

Nayu's thoughts
This looked an incredible book, but I strongly suspected it would deal with hard hitting issues, and having accidentally learning what happened to animals in the war in Holly Webb's sequel to the original Secret Garden (which is by Frances Hodgson Burnett), Return to the Secret Garden (Children's, 9 years +, 10E/10E)
 and also having dealt with a stray cat who is now where he belongs, I knew Tilly's adventure would be too hard a read for me to cope with. However, because I loved the premise and knew all of you would enjoy hearing about it I got in touch with Miriam to see if she would like to write a guest blog post to chat about her book. On reading it I'm doubly glad I didn't read the book! It sounds incredible so do go check it out! 
“This is the children’s war, saving our pets.” by Miriam Halahmy

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My new novel, The Emergency Zoo, (Alma Books, May 2016) asks the question, ‘When war comes, who will save the animals?’ Britain has a reputation for being a nation of animal lovers and I grew up in a home filled with pets. We always had a dog, as well as tortoises, terrapins, a white rat, a canary in a cage and numerous wild birds with broken wings that my mother nursed back to health and then released. My own children kept rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters. I prefer animals to be left to run free and don’t really like zoos or pets kept in cages. I like to watch animals in the wild and get very excited when I see a fox and once two huge badgers by moonlight.

So I was absolutely amazed to find out that at the outbreak of WW2, three quarters of a million pets were put down in the UK. I simply couldn’t believe it and had to read everything I could to confirm this dreadful story. People believed that dogs would go mad in the bombing and bite everyone; there wouldn’t be pet food once rationing started and the government announced that pets would not be allowed in shelters.

If you and your family have to leave home at very short notice, on no account leave your animals in the house or turn them into the street. If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is the kindest to have them destroyed.
Ministry of Home Security, 25th August 1939.

This is Trixie (I think it's Miriam's dog...) isn't she gorgeous? Can you imagine having to leave her behind?
Almost immediately I thought, there is a story here. My next thought was, What would the children do? At that time, children’s thoughts and feelings were not really taken into account. Although there was a lot of build up to war, grownups didn’t discuss it very much with children. Plans were made to evacuate 3 million children from the city but some children were not told until the morning they left. Children were left to imagine themselves what it was going to be like when war broke out. Imagine how much harder life was going to be for all those evacuated children after their beloved pets had been put down by the grownups?

I decided that the children would take matters into their own hands. So my main character, Tilly, 12 years and her best friend, Rosy, also 12, take Tilly’s dog, Bonny and Rosy’s cat, Tinkerbell, and hide them away in a den they have been playing in all summer in the woods. Gradually a lot of other children find out about the den and bring their pets too; guinea pigs, rabbits, a grumpy goat and more dogs.

Alec, 15 years, a trainee keeper at London Zoo, brings a baby cobra because all the poisonous animals will be put down.

Tilly, please take Freddy,” said Alec. “I can’t let him die.”
Look like the zoo’s moved to the woods,” said Sidney.
Tilly exchanged looks with Rosy, who gave her a firm nod. Tilly puffed her cheeks out, and then, folding her arms, she said, “Well, I suppose we’re the emergency zoo.”

Nayu: I have to say here I would have been glad to have the cobra put down as I have a snake phobia. However, I understand why Alec wanted to save Freddy. (Who on earth names a snake such a nice name? I mean really! They are all just SNAKE!!!! to me! 
Tilly has many problems to solve in the few days they have before they are evacuated into the countryside. All the pets have to be kept safe, warm and well fed. They have to find someone to take care of the emergency zoo once they leave and then Rosy is told she will not be sent away and so the two best friends are faced with having to separate. Tilly is determined to save the zoo and to be evacuated with Rosy but as time runs out, how can she solve all her problems?

Lotte, 16 years, looking after her little brother, after they arrive on the Kindertransport escaping certain death in Germany, arrives one day on Tilly’s doorstep with her brother’s dog. His foster parents want to put the dog down and Tilly agrees to take the pet into the emergency zoo.
Thank you Tilly. You are good kind girl and Papa will reward you when he comes to England.”
No need,” said Tilly. “This is the children’s war, saving our pets.”

One of these adorable kittens is called Marley (again I think it's Miriam's) - I couldn't leave them if I had to!
Although the Zoo is the work of my imagination, children were facing the war too and all the terrible things up ahead, often without their families and without their dear little pets. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them managed to find ways to save their animals.

Twitter : @miriamhalahmy

1 comment:

Miriam Halahmy said...

Just to say folks, The spaniel Trixie belonged to my brother and sadly is no longer alive. The cat Marley belongs to the author Savita Kalhan who kindly let me use this picture for my post.