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.
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.