Fiction Book Reviews

Poignant yet uplifting ~ The Emergency Zoo by Miriam Halahmy

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You probably know by now that I’ve spent some time researching my family history.  My late father’s WWII papers couldn’t be found so I paid to have research completed on his battalion.  And like most people, I’ve watched TV programmes and read fictional and non-fictional accounts.  At no point have I seen or even thought about what happened to pets at the start of the war.  That was until Alma Books offered The Emergency Zoo to bloggers.

The Emergency Zoo is inspired by real events and I think it should be read by a wider audience than the recommended reading age (9-11).


The Emergency Zoo


When the war comes, who will save the animals?

It is late August 1939: Britain is on the brink of war, and preparations are under way to evacuate London’s children to the countryside. When twelve-year-old Tilly and her best friend Rosy find out that they will not be able to take their beloved dog and cat with them – and that, even worse, their pets will, along with countless other animals, be taken to the vet to be put down – they decide to take action. The two girls come up with the idea of hiding them in a derelict hut in the woods and, when other children find out and start bringing their rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters, their secret den turns into an emergency zoo.

Inspired by real events during the Second World War, The Emergency Zoo is a touching tale of courage, resourcefulness and camaraderie in desperate times, as well as a stirring defence of animal welfare.



The Emergency Zoo begins with an idyllic scene.  It’s the 26th August 1939.  Rosy and Tilly have made a secret den in an abandoned building in a clearing in the woods.  They’ve been sneaking away since the school holidays began.  Tilly has her dog Bonny and Rosy her cat Tinkerbell.  Of course the idyll is shattered when the public information campaign begins …

Everyday life we see through the eyes of Tilly as she interacts at home with her parents.  I must admit to nostalgia with Sunday School; Tilly’s dad working in the garden on a Sunday; listening to the radio and vinyl being played on the record player (not in 1939 though!).  The feeling of being powerless at that age and the emotions of a child being forgotten in the fear of the adults own emotions is portrayed perfectly.  On 1st September when Germany invades Poland it’s very tense in Tilly’s home.  Tilly’s view:

“The war’s like a fiery dragon or a monster with no face,”  she thought with a shiver. “It’s going to eat us all up and there’ll be nothing left.”

One particular scene that Tilly sees outside the vets (which she shouldn’t have) is disturbing.  It really brought it home to me that this is what happened.  For real.

The secret den isn’t just about the pets that are looked after.  The children build their own community.  Tension and conflicts are perfect for the recommended age group.  Stereotypes are explored as is bullying and tolerance.

I thought Miriam Halahmy’s writing style was evocative of Enid Blyton.  I enjoyed the rhythm, the pace and seeing the world from a young person’s point of view.

The author has created a story that is sensitive but also full of hope.  It’s certainly thought provoking and I can only reiterate that I recommend The Emergency Zoo for all age groups.


Four shoes
Recommended Read


I would like to thank the publisher’s for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.


Connect with Miriam Halahmy


Twitter @MiriamHalahmy

Facebook Page


I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 8+ years. My love of reading, crocheting and being out in nature are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school. I'm passionate about early help and sharing strategies with families to empower and help build resilience. I'm a member of of my Local Authority's Early Help Operational Board, working alongside other professionals to instigate change and growth.

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