Monday, October 17, 2011

True courage

Brave Deeds: how one family saved many from the Nazis by Ann Alma (940.5318 AlB 2008) is an account of the efforts of a Dutch family to protect people who would have been persecuted by the Nazis during the Second World War.

We are told that Frans and Mies Braal put themselves at great risk protecting a Canadian airman shot down and injured, sheltering many children whose parents were in hiding or in work camps, and providing food and clothing to people involved with the Dutch Resistance.

I really wanted to like this book but, although I didn’t dislike it, in the end I just didn’t feel connected to the Braals. In part the disconnect was from the way the author decided to tell their story, using an unnamed fictional narrator representative of all children who endure the trauma of war.

The narrator tells us about the people living with the Braals and some family events that transpired during the last year of the war. The narrator tells us that she/he is afraid because of the planes that fly overhead, worried about his/her parents because they are in hiding, and anxious about Nazis discovering the people hidden with the Braals. All of this is told, but rarely shown, resulting in a lack of emotional connection to all those involved.

The only situation that really sticks in my mind is when Mies stares down a German officer when he unexpectedly arrives at the house. He is looking to take it over to house wounded soldiers but is uncertain whether he’s at the right place. Mies boldly lies that she does not know about the house he seeks. The officer knows that she is lying and likely hiding people the Nazis would imprison. Fortunately, he only assures her that he will never bother her again. A close call.

I wonder how children will relate to the story, especially if they are unaware of how the Nazis victimized so many and the danger that was involved for the resisters. I wonder if the story of the Braals would have been more engaging if the author hadn’t worried so much about incorporating a child’s point of view and just told us what happened.

One highlight of the book was the many family photographs of the Braals and some of the people who stayed with them. This does provide the sense that these are real people.

There are historical notes at the back of the book outlining the German occupation of Holland and a glossary explaining so Dutch words and terms related to the time period.

These were kind caring people with strong convictions and who were indeed brave. The book is worth reading but I would supplement it additional information.

Suggested for grades 4-7.

Visit Ann Alma's website for more information.

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