CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 17 . . . . April 18, 2008
Award-winning author Ann Alma has paid careful attention to detail in the writing of this book which describes the heroic actions of the Braal family during the final winter of World War II. The story is deliberately told from a young person's point of view, by an imaginary narrator, to give voice to the many children who live through war. All the other characters and events of the book are real.
Brave Deeds may be a short read, but it is large in ideas and important for understanding how personal choices and actions can demonstrate courage, and that human goodness is still to be found in the midst of evil. The Braal family was part of the Dutch resistance movement, and the family members risked their own lives to protect an interesting group of people during the war. Some were Jewish adults, many were children, one was even a downed Canadian airman too sick to travel the secret escape route to England. Frans and Mies Braal worked hard to clothe and feed the people they hid in their country house. Neighboring farmers and grocers helped by providing extra food not accounted for by the ration card system the Nazis tried to enforce. The story describes a life lived in fear as the Nazis could appear at any moment and insist on searching the house and yard. There was a cellar under the tool shed that was used as a hiding place when there was time, but otherwise those being sheltered by the Braals ran into the woods and hid under leaves and in ditches, sometimes for a few days without any food. In spite of living in fear, they found time to enjoy the sunshine and the occasional picnic. The children had a chore rotation, but they also time to read and play. News that the war would soon be over helped everyone through this last long, cold, hungry winter of the war. The waiting was also helped by celebrating the birth of another Braal baby, and Sinterklaas still appeared on December 5th with small homemade gifts for all the children. The adults wrote poems for everyone, creating an opportunity for laughter in the midst of all the fear. The story ends in the spring of 1945 when the war is over and people are allowed to return to what is left of their homes.
Almost every page has a photograph of people or events described in the story, reminding and engaging readers in the truth of the book's events. The text is supplemented by maps, a glossary, historical notes, and suggestions for further reading. The Epilogue provides answers for readers wondering what happened to the people after the war. Brave Deeds is an informative resource for teaching grade 6 social studies, a tribute to people of courage, and a challenge to those who wonder if they would ever have such courage.
Betty Klassen teaches in the Middle Years Program at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.