The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands Hardcover – Oct 1 2004
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 2-5–This slice of historical fiction celebrates the bravery and resourcefulness of children. In the winter of 1941, 10-year-old Piet, a strong skater, is enlisted to lead his two young neighbors from Holland to safety over the ice to relatives in Belgium after their father is arrested for sending messages to the allied forces. The three children leave their home in Sluis and bravely skate 16 kilometers on the canals to Brugge. They outwit and hide from German soldiers and make it to their destination in one long, difficult day. Told with immediacy and suspense from Piet's point of view, the engaging narrative is arranged in columns, which is an ideal structure to relate the action in short sentences. Readers learn about the Elfstedentocht, a 200-kilometer skating race, and the boy's hero, skater Pim Mulier. The gorgeously detailed watercolor illustrations capture a sense of the time. The subdued, winter hues of brown and smoky gray are those often found in the oil paintings of Dutch and Flemish masters and match the quiet tone of the text. The book's format maximizes the drama and expanse of the landscape. Use this picture book to introduce curricular units and to give youngsters a vivid child's-eye view of the past.–Shawn Brommer, South Central Library System, Madison, WI
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Gr. 3-6. In this exciting World War II picture book for older children, a boy in the Netherlands helps two children escape to Belgium, where they will be safe from German soldiers. Piet, 10, is inspired by his country's great skating champion, and he has always dreamed of taking part in the famous national race. Now, however, he must race with Johanna and her little brother, Joop, along the frozen canals, past German guards, and over the border to safety. Piet's long, lucid, first-person narrative appears in short dramatic lines ("I could feel the scrape of our blades against the ice / And I could feel the cold air inside my chest"), and Daly's sepia-tone illustrations stay true to the boy's viewpoint, both in the few tense, full-page close-ups (as when the children confront the border guards) and in the spacious views of the kids speeding through the white landscape. The focus on the historic skating race is sometimes confusing, but the war is always in the background, and the physical reality of the thrilling rescue will hold skating fans. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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When a family friend is taken into German custody Piet's grandfather asks the boy to take the threatened family's children, down the frozen canals, to safety across the border to Brugge, Belguim. They are hoping three children skating down the canals will not attact the attention of the German troops. The journey becomes Piet's Elfstedentocht. The cold, the exhaustion, the fear and the natural exuberance of the children are beautifully shared in this story.
Niki Daly's illustrations have an old fashioned feel. Daly has caught the feeling of the Dutch winter sky and the era with muted colors.
Interesting notes on the Elfstedentocht are included along with pronounciations of the Dutch words. Another wonderful book about Holland during WWII is "Forging Freedom" by Hudson Talbott. These two titles would work well together.
Piet (pronounced "pete") has a single burning obsession that has yet to be thoroughly quenched. He loves to skate. This is not particularly peculiar in the Netherlands, of course. After all, he comes from a long line of skate artisans and often he traverses the many canals that run through his town. But Piet's real hope is to someday compete in the difficult Elfstedentocht race held in Friesland when the winters are cold enough. Piet's hero, Pim Mulier, once completed the 200 kilometer (roughly 125 mile) course in just 12 hours and 55 minutes and Piet's raring to do the same. But it's the second winter into WWII and the Netherlands are under German occupation. What's worse, a father of two kids in Piet's school was recently arrested by the Germans for passing on information to the British. This places the man's children in dire peril and their only hope is to somehow escape over the border to Belgium and then into the town of Brugge to safety. But how could two such children be able to find their way? That's where Piet comes in. With his trusty red notebook in hand, Piet and the kids must escape and elude the Germans and make it to their safehouse in the course of a single day over 12 kilometers. If they're strong enough.
Though looking like a picture book, this is an in-depth read more appropriate for kids reading early chapter titles. In the course of the narrative, author Louise Borden spots the text with factual information in the form of maps, pronunciation guides (very useful when you have words like, "Elfstedentocht" to contend with), and info on the great Friesland race as well as a history of skating itself. It's enough to make your head spin. And then, to top it all off, there's the story. Borden cleverly sucks you into the action. It did strike me as a little odd that in this book the adults would place Piet in such danger when a grown-up probably could've have helped the two children instead. Then again, maybe they figured that kids would attract less attention. Whatever the reason, Piet's journey is realistic. He comes up with an ingenious way to keep the seven-year-old from tiring too much and also for keeping the children's spirits up. After reading the book, you may never want to skate yourself but you're happy watching others do it here.
The illustrations by Niki Daly are nicely detailed as watercolors go but the real hero here is the text. Kids who like that classic piece of children's literature, "Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates" by Patricia Lauber will find a similar tale in "The Greatest Skating Race". Purchase only for those advanced readers that won't be turned off by a little historical fiction. A great WWII picture book for a select audience.
This book is, on the other hand, is wonderful!
I have three relatives who rode the Elfstedentocht. Because I inherited the Elfstedentocht medals ("kruisjes") of my aunt's 3 tours and one from my grandmother, I find myself often explaining the uniqueness, severity and hardship (my aunt lost her front teeths; my grandmother froze her toes in 1909)of this race to my English speaking grandchildren, I ordered this book.
In addition to writing a nice story to go along with facts, Louise Borden has done an outstanding job of reviewing this incredible race and explaining the Dutch obssession with speed skating. This winter (2010-2011) we almost had another Elfstentocht. It was not to be. Hopefully next winter, or, as they say in Friesland "It sil heve!" (It shall happen!).
While this book is done in a picture book format, with a fairly easy reading style, it shows how the occupation impacted some children during a cold winter. This book is based on an actual incident where Piet had to skate with two Jewish children across the border into Belgium. It was a bit of an endurance test, just like a real race, because he had to watch out for the younger boy with him, and they had to hide on the ice under a bridge, and he had to persuade German soldiers he was just a schoolboy on his way to visit his grandmother.
Since I was born in Holland after the war, and I heard many stories about the war, and about ice skating on the canals, I found that this story had the ring of truth in it.
I found the two short appendixes at the back to be helpful in understanding more about the geography and the famous ice race.
I recommend this book to all ages, even teens and adults, who want to know more about real life in Holland during the war.
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