Katrina Nannestad (text) and Martina Heiduczek (illustrator), Waiting for the Storks, HarperCollins Publishers, November 2022, 352 pp., RRP $19.99 (hbk), ISBN 9780733342271
Waiting for the Storks by acclaimed Australian author Katrina Nannestad is a historical fiction set in World War II. It is a heart-wrenching story of eight-year-old Zofia Ulinski, a young Polish girl forcefully taken from her family early one morning in Kraków, Poland, by German soldiers. Although the story is fictional, it is based on events during Hitler’s Nazi Party reign that involved strategically kidnapping Polish children. Children assessed to have ideal physical traits were assimilated into German families and society, while others were sent into slavery or murdered. Zofia’s experience is that she fits the “ideal”, which provides her with a confusing haven as an adoptee in Germany, a very different pathway from some of her peers.
The cruelty of how Zofia and the other innocent Polish babies and children were conditioned within the inhumane political doctrine and the detail of their treatment makes for harrowing and upsetting reading, but this is handled sensitively for the age group guidance of twelve years and older. Expressive black and white illustrations by Martina Heiduczek further highlight the emotion of crucial scenes. Waiting for the Storks is also well-balanced. Nannestad presents the perspective of everyday people with both Polish and German war experiences, delving into the complexities of enigmatic and persuasive leadership and how escaping trauma impacts the desire for love, belonging, culture and identity.
Alongside the success of her other historical fiction novels, Rabbit, Solider, Angel, Thief (2021) and We are Wolves (2020), Nannestad successfully weaves poetic beauty, family tradition, friendship, folk symbols and language into the novel as Zofia’s survival tools. Waiting for the Storks is a powerful example of why the human experience of historical war is highly relevant to our understanding today and the future. A teaching guide is available on the publisher’s website.
Reviewed by Angela Brown