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NOW book coverWhat the Book is About:

Eleven-year-old Zelda is living in Australia with her grandfather, Felix, a physician and a survivor of the Holocaust, while her doctor parents volunteer at a clinic in Darfur. Zelda experiences rough hazing as the new kid at school; at the same time, Felix suffers from traumatic childhood memories. But Zelda and Felix have a beautiful relationship and they take care of each other with love and affection. When a bushfire rages through their town, Zelda and Felix find the courage and strength they need from each other to overcome their personal challenges and survive. This fast-paced and exciting book is wonderfully written, and it can be read independently of its companion books, Once and Then.

Jewish Content and Values

  • Tikkun Olam (fixing the world) is the central theme of this book. Felix devotes his talents as a surgeon to help others, and Zelda’s parents travel to Darfur to volunteer there.
  • The Holocaust serves as the backstory of the book. Felix’s tragic childhood and his relationship with his best friend, Zelda, who was murdered by the Nazis, are major plot points.
  • The Talmud (Sanhedrin 4:1) explains, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Zelda becomes Felix’s hands and helps him insert a chest tube in a field operation, literally saving Josh’s life. Many years earlier, Gabriek and Barney saved Felix’s life by sheltering him from the Nazis during the Holocaust. And, Zelda and Felix risk their lives by returning home to save Jumble, Zelda’s dog, from the fire.

Positive Role Models

  • Felix is an attentive and involved grandfather, a gifted surgeon, and an extremely kind and compassionate person. He buys Zelda a pair of strong boots to help her feel brave, and he understands, without being told, that things are tough for her at school. Although he carries plenty of emotional baggage from his childhood, Zelda describes him as “the happiest person she knows.” They sing and dance and have good times together.
  • Zelda's voice is impulsive and loving. Unusually perceptive for her age, she is inspired by her grandfather’s generous example and tries to live up to the memory of her namesake. Bullied at school, she tries to be brave and she achieves her goal during the fire, when she overcomes her fears in order to save Josh’s life.
  • Gabriek is a minor but nonetheless inspiring character. A Righteous Gentile, he plays a major role in Felix’s survival and we are told that after the war, he relocated to Australia so that Felix would have the opportunity to go to medical school.

Content Advisory

There are emotionally wrenching details in this outstanding book that might be hard for some kids to read. However, the story is narrated by a child who thrives in an atmosphere of loving care, and this does much to mitigate the heartrending backstory.

After the fire, Zelda notices a car with burnt bodies inside. It's clear that many have died, although none of the primary characters do. And, although the historical Holocaust information described is sad (six-year-old Zelda is murdered by being hung in the town square), no gory details are offered.

Talk it Over

Tonya and her friends pick on Zelda. Later, Tonya tells Zelda that she only bullied her to take the pressure off her brother, Josh. Do you think having a reason for being mean makes a difference? Did finding out that information change how you felt towards Tonya?

More For You

The genocide in Darfur is an important issue for the American Jewish community. In fact, the Save Darfur Coalition (an advocacy group and alliance of organizations committed to raising public awareness and mobilizing responses to the atrocities wrought by the Sudanese government) began as an initiative that grew out of an event organized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Jewish World Service. Today, the coalition has grown to include more than 180 religious, political, and human rights-based organizations committed to Tikkun Olam.

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