A map at the beginning of a historical fiction book promises an adventure, and this story will not disappoint children looking for a safe entry into the subject of the Holocaust. Written for a younger audience than the usual YA literature on this topic, the horrors of the Nazi occupation of France are touched upon through the eyes of 10-yearold Gustave, a Jewish boy fleeing the encroaching Germans with his family. The first chapter finds the family in Paris, and, by following the provided map along with the storyline, the reader learns about such things as how France was split and occupied in 1940, and where it was possible for a Jewish family to hide from the Nazis while waiting for visas to America. Gustave’s story is inspired by author Meyer’s father’s experiences of this time, and the research she did is very thorough — from the descriptions of the Menier Chocolate Factory on the demarcation line, to the way a child may have ridden a bicycle to help ferry messages for the Resistance. The family is likable and Gustave is appropriately childlike without being too innocent. The first-time author error of over explanation of detail can be overlooked because the plot moves quickly and the danger builds as the Nazis come to control even the part of France where it had been considered safe for the family. When Gustave learns that German soldiers love to eat black radishes, he comes up with a clever scheme to use them as a distraction when helping his father to smuggle Jewish relatives across the line. Children will enjoy this well told story about the day-to-day struggles of a French family and not even realize how much they are learning about geography and history at the same time. Grades 4 – 6.
Lisa Silverman is director of Sinai Temple’s Blumenthal Library in Los Angeles and a former day school librarian. She is the former children’s book review editor of Jewish Book World.