Finding Zasha by Randi Barrow
This is a prequel to the Saving Zasha book that was nominated for the Caudill last year. It's 1941 in Leningrad, Russia during World War II. Twelve-year-old Ivan has to flee Leningrad as the Germans have cut the city off from receiving supplies. Ivan is being sent to live with his Uncle Boris because his mom is being sent to go and work in the Ural Mountains where her factory is being relocated. The only way out of the city is over a frozen lake. Ivan leaves with a woman from his apartment building whom everyone calls "Auntie." Auntie is a survivor of World War I and is one tough cookie! The two end up at the home of Auntie's sister-in-law, Galina but find that the Germans are taking over the village. Ivan is playing music on his concertina one day for the two women when German soldiers stop at the house. Here is where we meet Zasha and Thor, two German Shepard puppies. Their owner, Axel Recht, is a ruthless Nazi commander who takes Ivan back to his headquarters to play music for him on his whim. During that time, Ivan becomes involved with a group of Partisans, a group of ordinary Russians who try to sabotage German actions. When Ivan learns that the puppies are being trained to hunt Russians, he knows he must save the dogs. Together with the other partisans, Ivan and the dogs escape up to his uncle's cabin in a remote part of the forest but not before Axel discovers Ivan stealing the dogs and vows to find Ivan and kill him.
The story gives some background now to Zasha and the man she was found with at the beginning of Saving Zasha. I really like the Auntie character in this book because she is so strong. It also gave me another perspective on what life was like back during World War II, especially what children had to endure and how they had to grow up so fast. It was not an easy time and many sacrifices were made. Great addition to a study on World War II, especially on what was happening on the Russian front.