CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 5 . . . . October 5, 2012
Milek and his brother, Munio, lived in a sleepy little village in 1940’s Poland. One day, their mother asks them to take food and clothing to Anton Suchinski’s house. The boys are reluctant to do so because Anton is known as the village fool. He talks to animals and plants and only eats vegetables. But Mama was persistent, telling them that, although Anton has his own way of doing things, he was a good man. Anton welcomed the boys and their gifts warmly.
Life in the sleepy village changes forever as war breaks out and the Nazis arrived. When the Nazis begin rounding up Jewish boys one night, Milek and Munio are unsure of their future. Mama and Tata do not know how to save their family, until Anton pays a visit. Remembering the kindness that the boy’s mother has shown him, Anton formulates a plan. No one would suspect that he, the village fool, could help to save his neighbours. However, it is through the courage and resourcefulness of their friend Anton that the family survives the war.
Read like a picture book, with thought-provoking and reflective coloured illustrations by award-winning illustrator Renné Benoit, this story is based on true events. Intended for a younger elementary school age audience, The Secret of the Village Fool could be read in a classroom, or with a caregiver, leading to a discussion of the Holocaust. The content is delivered in easy to understand and compassionate language.
Further, the story provides teachable moments surrounding human nature. At the beginning of the story, the boy’s mother teaches the boys that, although Anton is unusual, he is a kind man. She teaches the boys to look past what they find to be different and look deeper for what is good. After they go into hiding, the boys ask their father how people who were once their neighbours would turn on them, only because they were different. Their father cannot find the words as easily as their mother had, suggesting that to understand the good in people is easier than understanding the bad.
The final pages of the book offer a special section outlining what happened to each person after the war, and this section includes black and white and coloured photographs. A further reading list is included, but it is limited to only one title. A wider selection of materials relating to people who helped Jewish friends and neighbours during World War II, for those readers interested, would have been helpful. Still, The Secret of the Village Fool would be a valuable addition to any collection.
Gillian Green is a Children’s Reference Librarian in Woodstock, ON.