________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 21 . . . . June 20, 2003


The Night Spies. (A Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young Readers).

Kathy Kacer.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2003.
197 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-896764-70-3.

Subject Headings:
World War, 1939-1945-Underground Movements-Czechoslovakia-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1939-1945-Children-Czechoslovakia-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Ruth Scales McMahon.

***1/2 /4


Gabi's heart pounded with a fear she had not known for some time. All she could think was that the Nazis had found them and that they were going to be sent to a concentration camp like Magda. Gabi wanted to run, but there was no way out. She quickly counted four, five, six soldiers.

"Who are you? What are you doing here?" a soldier shouted as his comrades moved closer to surround the children.

Eva was breathing heavily beside Gabi, when suddenly Max made a break for it. He ran directly toward the soldiers trying to push through their line, desperate to escape. Gabi screamed as two soldiers reached down to grab Max. They picked him up easily and held him about the ground, his legs dangling below him.

The Night Spies is set in World War II Czechoslovakia. Gabi, her mother and her cousin, Max, are Jewish. They are hiding in a mountain community in northern Czechoslovakia in the barn of a family sympathetic to the plight of the Jews. The frustrations of the cramped quarters lead Max and Gabi to venture out into the mountain forests at night. Eva, the daughter of their host family, soon catches on to their nighttime escapades and insists on joining them.

     While wandering in the woods, they stumble upon a road the Nazis are building using the forced labour of members from Eva village. Night after night, they are drawn to this site until, one night, the anti-Nazi partisan soldiers capture them. The children go on to join forces with the partisan soldiers and whenever possible bring them information, food, clothing and medicine.

     There is never a dull moment in this story which is suspenseful, dramatic and action packed. Again Kathy Kacer (author of The Secret of Gabi's Dresser, a story set earlier in the same conflict) has crafted a story around a little known piece of World War II history. Her writing is stronger in this second tale and is geared at an older audience. The battle scenes are vivid and the human interactions compelling. There is a jolt to the reader when the narration changes from third person to first person in the "Epilogue."

     The story has a couple of inconsistencies. For example, Max is orphaned when the Nazis take his family away. He has a picture of them he is looking at when he and Gabi are first in their hiding place in January 1944. "If he had been home right now, his father would be returning from work in his bookstore and his mother would be making supper. He and his sister would start their homework." Historically, Jewish businesses had been taken over by June 1939, and a time after that Jewish children no longer attended school.

     Another example is as follows: The first night they arrive in the town that harbours them, the children are allowed, against the wishes of their female hostess, outside to play. Eva takes a photograph of Gabi. A few pages earlier we are told it is pitch dark outside.

     These inconsistencies may not be noticed by all readers; however, those that do will question the plausibility of some other events. This is a problem only because the reader is swept along with the adventures of the children and wants to accept that every heroic deed they perform is totally credible. We want to believe these children help to win the war. However, those that pick up on the discrepancies will still enjoy this thoroughly entertaining read. The Night Spies is a great book for both genders and a memorable read.

Highly Recommended.

Ruth Scales McMahon is a professional children's librarian, the co-chair of the Rocky Mountain Book Award, and the mother of two young children.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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