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Cloud and Wallfish: 10/30/16

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet is set in East Berlin in 1989. Normally East Berlin stories are taken from the perspective of East Germans trying to escape. It's always a preposition of your choice to the wall (over, under, through). It can be through a tunnel, it can be through the sewers, in a hot air balloon. But getting out is always the point.

Granted, the wall was a terrible thing. It disrupted lives. It cut families in two. It was a forty year mess. But people lived there and there must be other stories besides those who try to leave and either succeed or fail.

Cloud and Wallfish is about a regular kid with a bit of a stutter but a good ear for language who is suddenly taken from school by his family, given a new name (and a new birthdate) and relocated to East Berlin. His mother is there to study how the East Berlin schools approach learning difficulties while his dad is there to write a novel.

Meanwhile, Noah — now Jonah — is trying to follow the rules his parents have given him. They are to keep him (and them) safe. But they don't tell him what they are keeping safe from. They leave him to guess and to assume, which means he makes mistakes (and gets some things right too).

The German word for whale is Walfish, which to Noah (who never really accepts his new name), becomes Noah's nickname. The girl who lives in the apartment below Noah gives it to him. Her name is Claudia, which to him sounds like Cloud.

Claudia is the one person Noah really connects with. But for reasons that neither understands, the two children are kept apart for much of the book. Claudia happens to be my favorite type of characters — the one who says things that sound off the wall but are grounded in reality. Understanding how she interprets things leads to understanding the truth behind the story.

Cloud and Wallfish would work well in a classroom setting. It's a compelling story but it's also educational. Each chapter ends with a nondiagetic bit of historical information explaining things mentioned in the chapter.

Five stars

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