October 1st, 2011


Winter in Wartime

A review copy of a children’s book received on my Kindle through NetGalley. This what the publishers say:
Winter in Wartime has been a Dutch classic since it was first published in 1972. Author Jan Terlouw's wartime experience provided the inspiration for the novel and the gritty reality of living under an occupying army is realistic without being graphic. The small insurrections are shown for the monumental acts of bravery they truly are and the defiance of a people who refuse to give up their humanity makes this story as timely today as it was then.’

British children’s books published during the war tended to be about children unmasking a German spy (The Children of Primrose Lane by Noel Streatfeild) or refugees making their way to England (Strangers at the Farm School by Josephine Elder, Kitty Barne’s We’ll Meet in England). Those written after the war were more focussed on children’s real experiences, usually evacuation as in Carrie’s War or Goodnight Mister Tom. British children perhaps suffered separation from their parents and put up with having fewer cakes and sweets than they’d been used to. If you speak to an older person who was a child at that time you find they often remember it as rather exciting, when they watched dog fights, made plans for capturing German parachutists and never doubted for a moment that the Allies would win. The Blitz was pretty dangerous but Britain was never occupied; it’s this that makes the huge difference from the Dutch experience.

Michiel is fifteen when the story starts; his father is the local mayor. It’s 1944 and they are just waiting for the British and Americans (already flying over regularly) to arrive. Unfortunately, the closer the end of the war seems, the more desperate and harsh the German occupiers become. Men and boys are rounded up and taken off to work in German factories. Jews are hunted down. Any resistance is punished. So the main preoccupations of the people in Michiel’s small town are getting enough food and outwitting the Germans without getting into trouble. Now that Michiel can’t get to school he is free to ride all over the countryside on his bicycle, buying food from farmers. When Dirk in the local resistance group entrusts him with an important letter he knows to keep it secret. Dirk is arrested and Michiel finds himself responsible for a wounded British RAF officer in hiding. It’s a big weight for young shoulders and things become even worse when it’s clear that there’s a traitor in the neighbourhood.

Michiel is very brave yet his story is believable and full of interesting detail. I felt I was losing something in translation occasionally but still found it quite gripping. I only know one other Dutch children’s book about the war: What About Me? by Gertie Evenhuis, which was published by Puffin.

Lemniscaat USA
Imprint: Myrick Marketing & Media
ISBN: 9781935954026