Reviewed by Helen Mulligan
Saving Hanno is a short read that tells the story of nine-year-old Rudi, a German Jew who is sent away from his family home to live in London, as Germany becomes unsafe for Jews in the run-up to World War II. Rudi is desperate to take his beloved little dog, Hanno, with him and catches a lucky break when a family friend agrees to smuggle Hanno to England so they can be reunited there. However, it’s not long before Hanno’s future is threatened again by the impending war and it becomes Rudi’s mission to save him another time.
Told entirely through the voice of nine-year-old Rudi, Saving Hanno introduces young readers to the events of the time but in a way they can relate to. Rudi lives a life much like any other child until the dangers around him overwhelm his life and even then, his concerns often still focus on the mundane – what will people think of him, does his sister love him, how can he be a good boy for his parents and, of course, will his dog be ok.
The story addresses challenging subject matter in a gentle and accessible manner. While the reader is all too aware of Rudi’s experiences – leaving his family home, being separated from his parents, going to live with strangers in a country where he doesn’t speak the language or understand the culture, the ongoing fear of persecution and being evacuated again to the countryside – the focus remains on the dog Hanno and Rudi’s fierce desire to protect him. Throughout everything he has to deal with, Rudi’s worries remain concentrated on helping Hanno, a strategy that helps him cope with the chaos and threats he’s experiencing. This helps soften the shock that some children might have reading about this topic and guides them through the difficult subject matter.
The book has a slight feel of a secret seven escapade about it, keeping a sense of adventure and lightheartedness despite the challenging subject matter. This is reinforced by Karin Littlewood’s simple but powerful illustrations which capture a sense of childhood innocence as well as moments of powerful emotion that draw out both dark and happy moments of the story.
The story is well-paced and easy to read while the content is rich with plenty to unpick making it suitable for a range of ages and abilities. This is a neat little book that makes a fantastic addition to World War 2 and Holocaust literature for children aged 7-11, while also addressing themes still relevant today for refugee children.