Her muzzle wrinkled, and Andrej saw a glimpse of teeth and pale tongue. ‘They smell the same, ‘ the lioness murmured. ‘My cubs smelt as she does. Like pollen.’ She breathed deeply again, and Andrej saw the missing cubs returning to her on the wings of the baby’s perfume. ‘All young ones must come from the same place,’ she said: then sat down on her haunches, seemingly satisfied.
Under cover of darkness, two brothers cross a war-ravaged countryside carrying a secret bundle. One night they stumble across a deserted town reduced to smouldering ruins. But at the end of a blackened street they find a small green miracle: a zoo filled with animals in need of hope.
A moving and ageless fable about war, and freedom.
The children are Rom or gypsy, survivors of a massacre two months earlier that wiped out their entire extended family, and ever since their lives have been ‘gnawed at every edge by worry’… Hartnett’s descriptions of both the murders and a war-torn landscape across which flows a miserable tide of humanity comprises some of her finest writing. Ruth Starke ‘Winds of War’ Australian Book Review, September 2010, p71.
In a time characterised by a severing of old links between man and animal, when industrial agriculture has rendered them no more than raw material for manufacturing processes, Hartnett reminds us that they were once magical, oracular, even sacrificial creatures: a crucial means by which we explained the world and understood ourselves. Geordie Williamson ‘Strange Beasts’, The Monthly, August 2010, p62.
As these reviewers’ comments suggest, while The Midnight Zoo can be read as a gripping narrative by younger readers, its import will be better grasped by older readers who will appreciate its fable-like qualities and metaphoric ideas.
Teaching notes, written by Dr. Pam Macintyre can be downloaded here.