We’re smack-dab in the middle of Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge (what is it with that title, anyway?), and so I thought I’d share a few picture books about Holland that we’ve enjoyed. I have to give credit to this post at A Spirited Mind; I essentially took all of Catherine’s recommendations and traveled to several of our small, local libraries in search of as many of her picks as I could find.
Rather than review every single book we read (all of which can be found on the aforementioned post of Catherine’s, plus some we didn’t read), I’m going to highlight the one I thought was the most interesting and adaptible to many ages: The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands by Louise Borden. I should say first that I have a huge interest in World War II stories, and that’s what this one is. It’s not a topic that I’ve delved into much at all with my girls because of their young ages and their sensitivity to scary or intense stories. However, this is a great story to provide that sort of background historical information to give young children a framework for future literary encounters with Nazis and the Resistance.
The Greatest Skating Race is the story of young Piet, a Dutch boy who dreams of skating in the Elfstedentocht, or Eleven Towns Race, one day. This is a contest based on the feat of Pim Mulier, a sportswriter who managed to skate approximately 125 miles to eleven towns in Friesland one very cold winter. Piet aspires to be a “strong, brave skater” like Pim Mulier, but his chance to prove his mettle comes sooner than he expects: he is asked by his grandfather to accompany two neighbor children to their aunt’s home in Belgium. Their father has been arrested and their mother fears for their safety. Piet, of course, rises to the challenge, even facing some Nazi soldiers in person, as well as proving that he has wisdom beyond his years in knowing when to speak and when to be silent and still. Although the Nazis are present in this story and Piet and his young charges do encounter some Nazi guards, they are somewhat peripheral to the story in that they’re only gruff and threatening; nothing specific is named in terms of what evils they might do. Again, I think this story provides an excellent if brief glimpse into this troubling era in history.
My favorite part about this story is that it glorifies bravery and heroism in the face of both fear and evil. Piet grows cold and tired, and he is afraid–but he knows that he has a respnsibility to his young friends and to his grandfather and mother who have given him this task. Throughout the ordeal he remembers his mother’s words: ” ‘This is what it means to be Dutch.’ ” I, of course, can’t help but think about the brave Ten Boom family, a family that I will introduce my children to one day when they’re old enough to meet them. The Greatest Skating Race makes a perfect companion for Hans Brinker, too, even if they are both challening reads in terms of all the difficult-to-pronounce (for me, at least) names they contain. I persevered because the story is so good.
I can’t fail to mention the illustrations by Niki Daly. They are really beautiful and capture both the bleakness of the hour and the warmth and light that emanates from those who choose to stand against evil. It’s the marriage of an exciting and heroic story and lovely pictures–perfection!
My girls and I all loved this story, and I give it a Highly, Highly Recommended.
(I have no idea what happened with the fonts on this post. Please excuse!)
Have a terrific Read Aloud Thursday!