January 12, 2012

World War II story from the Netherlands

by Louise Borden

Ten-year-old Piet lives in Sluis, Holland. Piet loves to skate. His hero is Pim Mulier, a sportswriter famous for skating 200 kilometers (125 miles) in one day. It took him 12 hours, 55 minutes. Mulier later organized an official skating race, the Elfstedentocht.

Piet dreams that one day, he too will skate in the Elfstedentocht. Instead, he must skate a more dangerous one. Piet’s grandfather has given him an important assignment: to escort his friends, Johanna and Joop, to their aunt’s house in Brugges, Belgium. Their father was arrested by German soldiers, and they are no longer safe in Holland. To get to Brugges, they must skate 16 kilometers along the Dutch canals, avoiding the sentries at the border. The journey is hard for 7-year-old Joop, and they're cold and tired, but they have to hurry before the sun goes down.

The light grays and browns of the illustrations are good at capturing time and place, while the story, told from Piet's point-of-view, is quietly suspenseful. Author Louise Borden also manages to include factual information - maps, pronunciation guides, and a bit of skating history - without interrupting the narrative. A good book for kids who like skating and adventure.

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