Parents and teachers who want to introduce younger children to the Holocaust should read The Whispering Town for its positive message. Children’s author, Jennifer Elvgren and illustrator Fabio Santomauro provide a suitable text and complementary illustrations for primary school-aged kids as well as an older audience.
Many secular and Jewish educators feel that primary students (Kindergarten-5th grade) should not be introduced to the Holocaust and frown on the recent popularity of Holocaust picture books. Obviously, parents and teachers must ultimately decide what is right for their particular children. However, adults should not dismiss this book before making an effort to read it.
The picture book focuses on actual World War II events that occurred in the small fishing village of Gilleleje. This Danish community worked together to hide Jews from the Nazis and then secretly transported them to neighboring Sweden. Approximately 1,700 Jews were saved as a result. The Whispering Town provides a child’s perspective of life during this time and successfully illustrates the goodness of people.
Starting from the first page, readers will easily connect with Anett, a young Danish girl. Anett’s family bravely provides shelter to Danish Jews. Through Annet’s daily experiences, youngsters can learn about a few of the basic challenges faced by the fleeing Jews and their Gentile rescuers as well as the inherent risks of hiding Jews from the Nazis.
The following excerpt highlights the age appropriate way that Jennifer shows the complexity of this situation.
Then I heard the pounding on the front door.
‘Boom. Boom. Boom.’
I opened it a crack.
‘We’ve heard rumors that someone is hiding Jews on this street,’ said a soldier, pushing the door open.
‘I haven’t heard any rumors,’ I said, trying to stop my voice from shaking.
‘When we find them, we will arrest everyone,’ warned the other soldier.
Trembling, I closed the door.
Fabios’ simple drawings include ample visual clues. The appropriate use of darker shades of color adds to the foreboding tone. The serious nature of the text goes hand-in-hand with the emotions expressed in the drawings. However, the cartoon like images lessen the impact.
Classroom and home read alouds will naturally generate an abundance of hard to answer questions. Jennifer includes an Author’s Note that will help in responding to particular questions about this Danish village. Adults should be prepared to answer questions in an age appropriate manner. It is also advisable to read a few other Holocaust picture books. See below for links to Related Blogs that provide suitable resources.
If you choose to share this book with a classroom or just one child, I’d love to hear your feedback. If you review this book and choose not to share it, please take the time to share your reasons.
Whispering Town Awards
- ALA Children’s Notable Book List
- Sydney Taylor Honor Book
- National Jewish Book Award Finalist
In exchange for an honest interview and review, I was sent a copy of The Whispering Town.
Anyone who leaves a comment on this blog by Sunday, April 26, 2015 will be eligible for a book giveaway. Jennifer will send the randomly selected North American winner an autographed copy of The Whispering Town.
Memorable Holocaust Picture Books (Nerdy Book Club)
Notable Holocaust Picture Books Illustrate People Making a Difference (Nerdy Book Club)
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.