Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Secret of the Village Fool by Rebecca Upjohn

Brothers Milek and Munio don't like to take the food and clothing their mother asks them to deliver to Anton, a poor man the village believes is a fool.  He is, after all, a man who talks to animals and plants and who never eats meat.  But one day, when a neighbor sees the boys delivering food to Anton, he warns him not to associate with them - they are Jews, after all, and Hitler's men will be coming to their small Polish village soon and taking care of all the Jews there...and their friends.

After the boys go home, Anton thinks a great deal about Hitler and his Nazi soldiers.  And sure enough, that summer they do arrive with their guns and tanks, preceded by their planes and bombs.

And their arrival is eventually followed by rumors that the Nazis are going to round up Jewish families, and that they are separating out the boys and taking them away separately.

Anton, the village fool, also hears these rumors and thinks about Milek, Munio and their parents.  One night, he comes over with a suggestion for hiding the family from the Nazis.  And it was an outlandish proposal - so outlandish it could actually work.

And save them he does.  He dresses the boys up as girls and when everyone's eyes are on the burring Synagogue they are forced to watch, Anton sneaks them away to his house, where he already has two neighbor girls waiting to go into hiding.  Soon Anton and the boy's father are digging out the root cellar to make room for all six people to hide.

The six live in that root cellar for months and months, with a close call when Anton's neighbor suspects he is hiding Jews and calls the Nazis with their dogs.  But again, the village fool manages to fool even the dogs who are trained to sniff out people.

But finally the village is liberated and everyone can come out of hiding.

So often, after reading a fictional account of surviving the Nazis in hiding, the story ends with liberation, but not this one, because the beauty of The Secret of the Village Fool is that it is based on a real story.  At the end, we find out exactly what happened to Milek, Munio, their parents, the two neighbor girls and, of course, Anton, who eventually had the distinct honor of being named as one of the Righteous among Nations by Yad Vashem.

This picture book is a good starting place for introducing children to the Holocaust.  They will learn that Jewish people were hated by the Nazis, that people for forced out of their homes and send away, that children and parents were sometimes separated, and that neighbors either looked the other way or colluded with the Nazis.

But they will also see that not everyone agreed with what was happening, that there was a minority who didn't and some who even risked their lives to help.  Everyone thought Anton a fool because he couldn't read or write, and talked to plants and animals, but in the end, it was he who fooled the well-trained Nazi soldiers and dogs and even a nosy neighbor.

The Secret of the Village Fool was illustrated by Renné Benoit, using earth tones heightening the effect of the story and accenting the earthiness of Anton and with the idea of hiding in a root cellar.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was received from the publisher.

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