Once & Then, by Morris Gleitzman.
This is another book that came to me highly recommended. I had read numerous glowing reviews before picking it up myself. That can be the kiss of death, often, but in this case the book lived up to my high expectations.
This book tells the story of two young orphans in Poland during the height of the nazi occupation, a jewish boy and a slightly younger christian girl, and the things that they are forced to do in order to survive.
The story is told from the eyes of the young, jewish protagonist, and at first I found the style of the writing downright annoying. The tone was one of wide-eyed innocence -- the Nazi's were book burners, and they didn't like the protagonist and his family because they were book-lovers -- and that didn't suit me at all. After a few pages, however, I realized that it was not willful ignorance but rather that the protagonist really and truly had been sheltered enough that he had no idea of what was going on in the world outside the orphanage where he was living. From that point on, his innocent take on the world became charming and amusing and heartbreaking all at the once.
Ultimately, this is a book about storytelling. Storytelling to cheer oneself up, storytelling to keep hope alive, and storytelling to survive. And all of the stories bear the same innocently amusing view of the world, even though it is clear as the story progresses that much of the character's true innocence has been lost.
I don't think there is a single detail about this book that I didn't end up loving. I laughed and cried with the characters, and lost myself in their world for a fair few hours. I now add my voice to the chorus of those celebrating the brilliance of this book, and recommend this book most highly. 5 out of 5.