The Whis­per­ing Town

Jen­nifer Elv­gren; Fabio San­tomau­ro, illus.
  • Review
By – June 6, 2014

A pic­ture book proves it takes a vil­lage” long before peo­ple said it takes a vil­lage”. Whis­pers and qui­et courage turn resis­tance to Nazis dur­ing the Holo­caust in Den­mark into a heart warm­ing sto­ry of sup­port­ive action. First per­son nar­ra­tive and illus­tra­tions deliv­er dan­ger, fear and hero­ism. The cru­el need to hide to sur­vive is bal­anced by resource­ful sup­port of neigh­bors and strangers. A fam­i­ly of right­eous gen­tiles hides Jews in their cel­lar on a reg­u­lar basis. Anett, their young daugh­ter, treads into the dark to bring them food, guid­ed down the stairs by their whis­pers. To ease the wait­ing, she brings library books. Anett replen­ish­es sup­plies by vis­it­ing the bak­er, the librar­i­an and the farmer; all talk in whis­pers. After a few days, hid­den Jews walk to the town har­bor where they board boats to be smug­gled to safe­ty in Swe­den. Dai­ly the occu­py­ing Nazi sol­diers bang on doors and threat­en towns­folk about pro­tect­ing Jews. Anett knows how to warn those in her house; she knows how to answer the ugly sol­diers. But no one seems to know how to get hid­den Jews to the har­bor with­out being caught when there is no moon­light to ensure a secure route. In the sto­ry, remem­ber­ing how whis­pers get her down stairs, Anett sug­gests towns­folk stand in their door­ways to whis­per sequen­tial­ly, enabling Jews to make the har­bor with­out meet­ing sol­diers. (In his­to­ry, not all escapes suc­ceed­ed; one of the excep­tions hap­pened in the town, Gillele­je, where this sto­ry is set.) The actu­al tiny fish­ing vil­lage helped 1700, almost one fourth of Dan­ish Jews, board boats for safe pas­sage to a safer land. The cold palette of the art is bro­ken by angry slash­es of red. Faces com­mu­ni­cate ten­sion. The short, direct lines of text speak worlds. This slim vol­ume is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed for its fine read, for its intro­duc­tion to sound his­tor­i­cal fic­tion and for its gen­tle look at a dif­fi­cult past that can­not be ignored. 

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 6 to 9.

Book Trail­er

Ellen G. Cole, a retired librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

Discussion Questions