To merely say that this is a story of how two nine-year-old Jewish boys survived a winter in the Polish forest to which their mothers had entrusted them after leading them out of the ghetto, would be omitting the essence of this lyrical and somewhat magical story. The Russians are advancing and the ghetto may soon be abandoned or destroyed, its inhabitants either killed or sent away to the camps. So, separately, two Jewish mothers send their nine-year-old sons to the forest rather than have them killed by the Germans or shipped to camps. After meeting in the forest, the boys, former classmates, decide that they will wait for their mothers together, but their mothers do not come, not for a very long time. One of the boys is a child of nature, the other scholarly and timid. Gradually, each begins to impart some of their personality and skills to the other. They will develop a beautiful friendship. Before the winter sets in, the forest has become a mother furnishing them with water, berries and nuts for nourishment. They learn new skills; they copy the birds and build themselves a nest. Best of all, the marvelous dog of one of the boys joins them. Barely nourished in the winter, they are soon supplemented by the bravery of a classmate, an undersized, nondescript girl posing as a non-Jewish peasant, who will be severely beaten when her farmer finds out. She is almost dead by the time she staggers to them as the Russians are approaching. This tale recalls the lyrical tone and writing style of St. Exupéry’s The Little Prince. Days turn into weeks, weeks to months and the seasons change from autumn to winter. Slowly, the tale offers the gifts of friendship that inspire generosity, compassion and courage presented by each of the characters to one another. Can you believe that their mothers return to them? The illustrations are lightly sketched in colored ink and thinly painted in water colors. Some are better than the others. Would that more were. The cover is wonderful. I felt magic in those woods.
Recommended for ages 9 – 14.