‘Finding Zasha’ by Randi Barrow: A WWII story about a brave boy and two puppies


Rating: 5 stars

“Finding Zasha” is the companion story to “Saving Zasha” by Randi Barrow. Barrow obviously loves dogs and clearly understands the emotional connection one can have with a puppy or adult dog.

This novel, “Finding Zasha,” is actually a prequel to the earlier work. The setting is Russia during World War II. Ivan, the main character, is a twelve-year-old living with his mother in an apartment building in Leningrad, right at the start of the Siege of Leningrad.

When his mother is sent to the Ural mountains to work for the Russian army, she arranges for Ivan to go and live with an uncle. A neighbor, Auntie, accompanies him. They get sidetracked in the village of Vilnov where Auntie is going to stay with a relative.

Ivan wants to stay and join the partisan efforts. He is playing his concertina (a small accordion-like instrument) when the Germans come into town. The commander orders Ivan to come to German headquarters so that he can continue to play for him and entertain the other German soldiers.

Ivan does so willingly, having decided that he will try to get as much information as he can to help the partisans. He also has fallen in love with the commander’s two German shepherd puppies.

Ivan’s actions, his bravery, and his determination to save the two puppies from the harsh reality of being in the German army will thrill readers. The story is full of daring and adventure. It’s also full of great information about World War II and the siege of Leningrad. And it will serve as an introduction to the cruelty of war and the horrors facing those who fight.

Readers of this book will want to read “Saving Zasha” next. Even those who already read it will want to reread it now that they know Zasha’s beginnings.

Barrow is just beginning to write a story that will be a sequel. She was not more specific about what will be in it, but I will imagine that somehow, the boys from each story meet. I, for one, would line up to read that.

“Saving Zasha”has won numerous awards, including being selected as one of the Best Children’s Books of the Year 2012 by the Children’s Book Committee, being selected to be included in the IRA-CBC Children’s Choice List for 2012, and winning the Parents’ Choice Award, Spring 2011, in the historical fiction category.

For animal lovers, lovers of historical fiction, lovers of adventure books, this is a great choice.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Scholastic Press, for review purposes.