Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 96 pages
Publisher: Groundwood Books (April 28, 2008)
Amazon Price: $14.00
Source of book: Review copy from publisher
From the summer of 1944 to the end of World War II, Frans and Mies Braal, Dutch resistance workers risked their lives and the lives of their children to hide Jews, other Dutch resistance workers hiding from the Nazis, and more people who were on the Nazis' radar in their country home, Het Buitenhuis, on the island of Voorne.
Brave Deeds: How One Family Saved Many People from the Nazis, told from the point of view of a young fictional boy, tells the Braal's story. The story begins with the boy being awakened by his parents in the middle of the night. The Nazis are kicking in the door of their house, and his parents, who are resistance workers, must quickly go into hiding. The boy meets Frans Braal in an ally, who takes him off to Het Buitenhuis.
At Het Buitenhuis, the boy tells the story of a number of people who really lived at the house, including a Canadian soldier who was too ill to navigate the escape route to England. Food was scarce, but no one ever starved as neighbors secretly supplied food and clothing to the Braals. While the Braals do their best to help the children and adults live as normal a life as possible, they live in constant fear of the Nazis. The Nazi's, in fact, do come more than once, and those in hiding must either hide in a cellar in a shed or in ditches covered with leaves in the forest. At one point, the people are tipped off by a neighbor that a Nazi with a search warrant is coming, and they have ten minutes to hide. Here's the narrator's account of hiding in the forest:
"We hurry after Oom as she leads us to a ditch running through a thick clump of trees. 'In there,' he points.
The ditch isn't very big, but we all get in and cover ourselves with leaves.
'Not a sound,' Oom says.
We don't need to be told. We sit side by side. No one moves. I strain to hear noises coming from the house but hear nothing.
When we first sat down, Peter grabbed my hand. Now he squeezes my fingers so hard I'm sure they will be bruised, maybe even broken. A fly starts buzzing in the leaves somewhere close to my ear.
When I don't think I can last another minute, I hear other noises. A twig snaps. Footsteps rustle in the leaves nearby.
We've been found! We'll all be taken prisoner. Or we'll be shot..." (page 52, from Advanced Reader Copy).
Scattered throughout the book are black and white photographs of the Baals, their country house, the children living there, and other photos representing the period, including one of the Star of David Jews were required to wear on their clothing. An epilogue gives more information about the Baals and their lives after the war. It also includes a glossary, historical notes, and recommendations for further reading.
I admit that when I first read about the book, I was a little skeptical about the story being told from the account of a fictional boy. Why not just write a nonfictional account? However, after I read it, I realized that Ann Alma made the right choice for the age group for which the book's intended. Children will identify more with the story because a child is telling it from his point of view and expressing thoughts and feelings familiar to the children reading the story.
Not only does the book tell us the story of two brave souls who risked everything to help others, but it tells the story of hope, courage, kindness, and survival. I highly recommend this for any social studies classroom, and I also highly recommend this as a story every child should read.