The messenger pigeon Francis is on a mission. He must carry an urgent message to code breakers so they can warn London of an upcoming Nazi attack. Francis wants to do his part to help win World War II, but while on a dangerous assignment, Francis is injured. Now Francis cannot fly and is stranded in the middle of the London Zoo, but he is still determined to deliver his message and help win the war.
While at the zoo, Francis meets the world-famous panda Ming. Since coming to the zoo, Ming has always been too afraid to speak. When Francis lands in Ming’s enclosure, Ming knows she must do something to help Francis and the other animals at the zoo. With the help of a kind zookeeper, two mischievous monkeys, and other friends, Ming fights to help Francis recover his strength. When the war finally arrives in London, Francis, Ming, and the other animals must work together to save themselves. . . and maybe even London itself.
The life of a carrier pigeon comes to life with the introduction of Francis, who is patriotic, brave, and dedicated to helping his country and others. Readers will fall in love with the fearless pigeon as he befriends the zoo animals. Francis’s mission is never far from his mind, and he continually works to find a solution to his problem. Because the war is told from the animals’ point of view, readers are given a unique view of World War II. Even though the focus is on the animals’ fears, the story doesn’t leave out the danger to humans.
Unlike Francis, panda bear Ming desires to be silent because she is afraid of making deep connections with others. At a young age, Ming was traumatized when she was taken away from her panda bear family. However, with the help of Francis, Ming is able to find her voice and help others. When Ming sees others take risks to help Francis deliver his message, she learns to put her own fears aside. Francis tells Ming, “Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you want to do. What you need to do.”
Survival Tails: World War II will grab readers’ attention from the very first page. The non-stop action and suspense will keep readers flipping the pages until the very end. Readers will connect with Francis and the other animals as they help each other survive. Francis’s dedication to the war effort and his friends is inspiring. Even though Francis is just a pigeon, he will leave readers with valuable life lessons and will encourage them to never give up.
The end of the book has historical background on the Blitz, a World War II timeline, and a glossary. At the end of the story, Francis says, “Hopefully, the world will have learned something from this tragedy. That is the one good thing that could come of it.” Survival Tails: World War II will help younger readers learn about the sacrifices made during World War II. The story will introduce younger readers to the events in World War II and help spark their curiosity about the time period.
- A soldier brings an important message to a lieutenant general. When the soldier appears, “blood trickled down his face from beneath his helmet, dripping into his eyes, and his uniform was ripped and muddied.” The soldier says, “I came as fast as I could to get the message to you, sir. Didn’t even stop when the Nazis started shooting at me.”
- When the Nazis bomb London, the panda bears saw “planes [that] flew in a V formation, like a flock of geese, gliding low over London, seeking their targets. Gunfire echoed around the city, then thud, thud, thuds in quick succession as the bombs landed. . . snaking trails of black smoke rose high into the sky.”
- When Francis is trying to deliver a message, shots are fired at him. “As Francis flew closer, the gunfire came again, but this time he was ready. He easily dodged the bullets, then moved into position so that he still had the pillbox in sight. . . Francis passed safely out of range. . .”
- Francis sees a plane start shooting. Then the plane “veered to the left[,] but caught its wing on one of the barrage balloon’s thick cables. Its entire left wing sheared off and the plane fell into a tailspin, exploding in a blast of blinding light and heat that erupted toward Francis.” Francis tried to fly higher to avoid being injured but “his wings finally gave up on him. He froze in midair for a split second before he began to fall.”
- While walking around the zoo, Francis gets hit on the head. “It was an empty peanut shell. . . He pretended to walk away, but then spun to face his attacker, getting hit directly in the face by another nut.” His “attacker” was two monkeys, who were trying to have fun.
- When Ming sees a polar bear for the first time, a blackbird tells her, “Sometimes I hang around here at feeding time, and it’s just a bloodbath! The way they use their sharp teeth to rip into the. . .”
- When a Toucan takes the canister with the message inside, Francis goes after him. Fighter planes appear and “huge missiles fell from the sky in quick succession, whistling as they dropped lower, lower, lower, then hit their target with an enormous blast that threw both Francis and Toca off course.”
- In order to get the canister back, Francis “opened his beak wide and, with a loud war cry, dove at Toca, knocking them both into a spin. Their wings and claws became entangled as they both struggled to break free, sending a flurry of feathers through the air as the solid, unforgiving ground rose fast and faster to greet them.” Francis gets the canister but is injured.
- The animals watch as Nazis drop incendiaries over London. “All around them, more and more incendiaries fell from the sky, raining down like droplets of fire.” Fire quickly spreads around the zoo and animals panic. “The fires continued to rage all around them, and now, along with the incendiaries, bombs were being dropped. There were screams as humans ran for shelter. Their cries were drowned out by the echoing explosions and drones of planes—both enemies and allies—flying above.” The animals race toward a tunnel so they can hide. As they ran, a “bomb exploded within the zoo grounds and a huge geyser of water burst forth from the ground as it hit the main water pipe. Francis fought against the heavy spray, but his wings were waterlogged.”
- As Francis looks for animals to help, his friend Paddy follows him. Paddy is injured, and Francis “wrapped his good wing around Paddy as the two hobbled along toward the tunnel. There was another explosion as the camel house as hit, blocking their path. Francis and Paddy were thrown back against a wall by the blast.” When Francis finds Paddy, he sees “a small bundle of bloodied fathers lay unmoving on the ground.” Paddy dies. The scene of the zoo being bombed is described over eight pages.
- The zoo that the pandas were moved to is also bombed. “Before Ming could shout out a warning, the bomb landed just beyond the giraffes’ paddock. She threw herself at Tang and Sung and knocked them to the ground, sacrificing her own safety to shield them with her own body. Ming felt as though she were caught inside a firestorm. The explosion sent a fierce blast sweeping over them in scorching waves.” The humans put out the fire.
- After the zoo was bombed, Francis notices “a few animals still wandering the zoo, looking as dazed and exhausted as Francis felt. . . Francis had seen humans with the same lost expressions at Normandy—those who had returned from the front line, some inured, some worse, with their eyes glazed over.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- In order to relocate the panda bears, they are shot with a tranquilizer gun. After being shot with the tranquilizer, “Ming’s vision blurred in and out of focus. Thang lay still beside her, his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth.”
- Ming says someone is a coward.
- When Francis was sent to deliver a message, he “spread his wings, praying that they were ready for the long, dangerous journey ahead.”