Authors: Kathy Kacer & Sharon McKay
Publisher: Puffin Canada, 2009
Ada had borrowed Elly’s bike, which was way too big for a little girl. It took all her concentration to stand on the pedals and make them go around. That’s why she didn’t see the German soldier standing on the road ahead. He took his gun off his back, pointed it at her, and said, “Are you a Jew?”
Ada swallowed hard, and Rika went pale as snow. But Ada had listened to her war-parents, and she knew just what to say.
“What is a Jew? I live across the street on that farm.”
He looked at her blond, frizzy hair and Rika’s straight brown hair, tied neatly into plaits. After a very long time – well, it seemed like a very long time – he walked away.
Ada tried to push off on the bike but it was no use. Her legs had turned to jelly. One, two, three turns of the pedals and her bike wobbled into a gooey stream and she was instantly covered in stinky, slimy, sticky, green algae. Ada never left the farm again.
Ada’s sly answer to the German soldier is one of many life and death encounters with German soldiers that dominate Kathy Kacer’s and Sharon McKay’s Whispers in Hiding. Ada was a young girl who dared to leave her hiding spot to venture out for a bike ride. Normally, this would be an everyday event, but during World War Two, in Europe, this was, for some, a reckless act. Whispers in Hiding is a collection of true stories about the dangers of simple acts in extraordinary times and how children tried to evade being captured by Nazi authorities.
The book is the final installment of the “Whispers” trilogy that was launched last year. The trio of books are based on stories drawn from interviews with survivors of the holocaust living in Canada. The authors have previously written several popular and award-winning books for children and young adults, including Kacer’s “Our Canadian Girl” series and McKay’s “Charlie Wilcox” books. This book is not an exception; it is a well-written, spine tingling book that will entertain and inform readers.
While the previous two books of the series focused on life in Jewish ghettoes and concentration camps, Whispers in Hiding describes how children concealed their identities, hid in crates, survived in forests, walked great distances to cross international borders, and joined partisan groups to survive the war. The stories take place primarily in Poland, the Soviet Union and Germany, but also include Italy, the Netherlands, the Balkans and France. Memorable stories include: “The Crate” about how Judy, an eight-year-old girl, and her mother convinced a farmer to allow them to hide in crate while Nazi soldiers ransacked the farmer’s home, and “Italy’s Royalty: The Peasants of San Zenone” describes how Esther/Elsie was coached by a sympathetic Italian to convince the Nazi authorities that she was not Jewish. Each chapter concludes with a postscript describing how the survivors rebuilt their lives and established new families in Canada.
As children begin to enquire about the past and historical events, books are one of many conduits to help children grasp history. The Holocaust is an especially difficult topic to address. Fortunately, Kathy Kacer and Sharon McKay have produced another useful book to help children begin to grapple with these events. Children will appreciate the fast paced, suspenseful stories, the glossary and postscripts. Parents and teachers will be grateful to have an additional tool to encourage discussion. Whispers in Hiding is highly recommended for every library. One can only hope that books such as these may save other children from enduring the pain, suffering and fear that Ada and the other children suffered.
Philip Bravo is a librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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