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Bookmarked Blog
It should be no surprise that we have chosen Katrina Nannestad’s tender new novel as our Children’s Book of the Month for November. Inspired by a real-life boy soldier who lost his family and home in WWII, Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief is another beautifully written historical fiction story for young readers from the award-winning author of We Are Wolves. Discover more about the characters and message of the novel, as well as Katrina’s top five must-read children’s books below. 

Sasha is inspired by a real-life boy. Can you tell us a little more about how the idea for Rabbit Soldier Angel Thief came about?

KN: While doing research for We Are Wolves, I came across an article about a little Russian boy, Sergey Aleshkov, reportedly the youngest soldier to have served during the Second World War. Sergey was left orphaned and alone when the Germans killed his mother and brother for helping Russian Partisans. He was found by Red Army scouts and was adopted into their regiment where he served throughout the war in a non-combat role. Accounts of Sergey Aleshkov were almost fable-like in the way they spoke of his warm heart, his bravery and the way he lifted his comrades’ spirits with his singing and poetry. This gave me the idea of writing a story about my own little soldier whose kindness and love transforms the lives of those he meets – even in the darkest of situations. Sasha, my fictional character, is sweet, naïve, optimistic and a great believer in the power of hugs.


We see the brutality of war through Sasha’s innocent eyes. How did you go about writing historical children’s fiction that is both uplifting & heartbreaking at the same time?

KN: I always try to balance the tragedy and loss in these more serious stories with love, joy and humour. In Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief, the dark and dramatic moments are lightened by those scenes that describe simple but meaningful pleasures – singing, dancing, playing games, reading letters from home, picking flowers. Ultimately, I aim to write stories that leave the young reader with a sense of satisfaction, happiness and hope.


Throughout the novel, we can see the significance of each word in the title. What makes you choose those particular words?

KN: Rabbit refers to Mama’s pet name for Sasha – Little Rabbit.
Soldier refers to his time serving in the Red Army.
Angel refers to the role he plays in Red Army propaganda during the Battle of Stalingrad.
Thief alludes to Sasha’s uncontrollable urge to steal certain objects. These objects trigger his wartime memories and are the means through which he is able to tell his story. There are further connections to these words, but I don’t want to spoil the story by telling too much in advance!


Image of Katrina Nannestad. Photo taken by Rebecca Rocks


What’s your favourite part of the story?

KN: When Sasha meets the second Nina. Sasha and Nina enjoy a little moment of childhood in the midst of the Battle of Stalingrad. Both children are so real to me and I love spying on them as they sip tea, hold hands, tell stories, draw pictures and giggle together.


How long did the research/total time taken for you to write this novel?

KN: I spent a few months researching before I planned the story. Then writing took about five months. I did a lot of research along the way too. I really didn’t know much about the Second World War from the Soviet point of view before writing this book.


What kind of messages do you hope this book will convey to kids?

KN: I hope reading the book will show young readers that war is not a simple matter of goodies and baddies, winners and losers. There are good and bad people on both sides. Good people do bad things under pressure. And everyone suffers when there’s a war. I especially want to show the power of kindness to change lives. One person can shine a light in the darkest of situations.


Can you tell us what you think makes a good children’s story? What’s the hardest thing about writing a novel?

KN: I think well-developed, lovable characters sit at the centre of any great story for children. It’s fine to have a few despicable ones in there too! Of course, there needs to be an exciting plot to draw the reader along and keep them wondering. And I really do think most readers want a happy ending. Not everything has to be rosy, but there needs to be a sense of hope for the future. What’s hard changes from one novel to another. In writing Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief, it was getting the right balance of light and dark – being honest about the tragedy of this war for the Soviet people, while keeping it child-friendly and hopeful.


Do you hear from your little readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

KN: Yes, they’re really sweet. Most of the messages involve children telling me how much they enjoy my books. They often ask if I will please write another book in a series they have loved. I’m hearing more from parents, too. It’s been lovely over the past few years to hear that families have read my books together – laughing, crying and talking about the story. The messages about We Are Wolves sometimes include a query about the fate of the characters who we leave behind along the way. I love this because it shows the reader has become involved with the story, and the characters are living in their imaginations even after the last page has been read.


Can you tell us your top 5 must-read children’s books?

KN: If I have to choose just five, today my list would be:
Dragon Skin by Karen Foxlee
Nanny Piggins by RA Spratt
Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell
Time Stops for No Mouse by Michael Hoeye
Once by Morris Gleitzman

Rabbit, Solider, Angel, Thief is available in store and online now.

Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief
Katrina Nannestad

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