This is the story of Edda, a teenage girl, aiding the resistance in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands from 1943 until 1945. Inspired by the life of Hollywood actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn, it is a clear, poignant, short novel that exudes power and emotion.
The partnership of Tom Palmer and publisher Barrington Stoke is perfect, in my view. Both set out to produce concise, high-quality books, which young people will want to read, including those with dyslexia or dyslexic tendencies. The text length, font and even the shade of paper complement the style of the prose, which is to the point and assured. The content is challenging but accessing the story is not.
Edda is a relatable character, tenacious and inventive. When recommending herself to members of the resistance, she attributes her honed memory to the experience of being asked to recall dozens of positions and moves in ballet lessons! She is well-drawn without being exhaustively described. Tom Palmer invites children to use their imaginations as they respond to the text. He always makes readers work and I like this.
Having read many books on this theme, I was pleased to be wrong-footed at several points with the plot. Particularly towards the end, there are several twists, which kept me turning the pages. The author uses colour, sound and silence effectively throughout. There are glimpses of orange, punctuating the grey tones of occupation, then unsettled nothingness, before loud rumblings and an explosion.
This book is suitable for children aged nine upwards. It references conflict, malnutrition and persecution, so I feel that some historical knowledge is needed to appreciate the story fully. Educators could certainly forge strong links with non-fiction by looking at biographies of Audrey Hepburn. I was fascinated to find out about her experiences of war and hunger as a young girl, as well as her performances that raised funds for the resistance movement.
This book will stay with me for two key reasons. Firstly, it explores how the abnormal can become ordinary in times of conflict, for example Edda had to both ‘grow up’ suddenly and ‘grow down’ to avoid suspicion from Nazis. Secondly, the accounts of near starvation really hit home as an example of the dehumanising effects of war; Edda’s hunger robbed her of the ability to dance.
In my view, we need more books of this length for older readers so that children feel a satisfied sense of completion, yet know that they have read a gem of a book. One of my pupils once said, ‘There are no winners in war.’ Tom Palmer has produced another book that illuminates the past courageously and clearly, so that we may all learn from it.
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