Greatest Skating Race: A WWII Story from the Netherlands

Overview

"You're a strong skater, Piet, and you have a quick mind. This is why I know you'll succeed in this important task. I wouldn't ask you to do this if I didn't know it could be done."
In 1941 Piet, a young Dutch boy from Sluis, gets the assignment of a lifetime: He must skate along the frozen canals of the Netherlands and across the Belgian border, in order to guide two neighborhood children to their aunt's house in Brugge, where the children will remain for the duration of World ...

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Overview

"You're a strong skater, Piet, and you have a quick mind. This is why I know you'll succeed in this important task. I wouldn't ask you to do this if I didn't know it could be done."
In 1941 Piet, a young Dutch boy from Sluis, gets the assignment of a lifetime: He must skate along the frozen canals of the Netherlands and across the Belgian border, in order to guide two neighborhood children to their aunt's house in Brugge, where the children will remain for the duration of World War II. Their father has been taken by German soldiers, and the children are no longer safe in Sluis — but the journey with Piet, past soldiers and enemies, is fraught with danger.
Along the treacherous path to Belgium the three children skate using every bit of speed, courage, and strength they can muster. All the time they try to appear like innocent schoolchildren simply out for a skate, for if the German soldiers discover their escape plan, the children will be in grave trouble. During the journey Piet thinks about his hero, Pim Mulier — the first person to ever skate the Elfstedentocht, the famous and prestigious Eleven Towns Race that takes place in his country. For years Piet has dreamed of proving that he is a skater as brave and strong as Pim Mulier — but he had never imagined that his test would fall under such dangerous circumstances.
Louise Borden's moving text captures all the tension, excitement, and fear that comes with Piet's mission, while Niki Daly's evocative illustrations bring the children and their perilous journey into vivid focus.

During World War II in the Netherlands, a ten-year-old boy's dream of skating in a famous race allows him to help two children escape to Belgium by ice skating past German soldiers and other enemies.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
A fictionalized story set in World War II is well served in Louise Borden's first-person narrative combined with Niki Daly's subdued and wintry palette of the Dutch landscape. A young skater named Piet has always admired the first man to skate the route now immortalized in the "Eleven Towns Race" that takes place in the Netherlands. He suddenly has a chance to use his skating skills to accompany two children whose father has been taken by the Germans. Their mother is sending them to relatives for safety and has asked him to skate the canals with them from Sluis (rhymes with voice) across the Belgian border to relatives. The dramatic story shows Piet's courage, his ability to avoid detection, and the ways the children keep up their spirits on the long skate (the record for the 200 kilometer race is slightly under thirteen hours). Although there is no suggestion that Piet's accomplishment is based on a real event, it reads like one complete with an "After the War" section and readers would have been well-served by a note saying exactly what is real and what is made up. There are, however, informative short historical notes, both on the race itself, and on skates and skate making, which end the story. Daly uses reddened browns and grays and the vast panorama of the flattened landscape and canal routes to create a fine sense of place. This book belongs alongside other picture book treatments of World War II incidents, such as Candace Fleming's Boxes for Katje, which is also set in the Netherlands, as an introduction to the period for upper elementary and middle school studies. It is also an excellent companion to novels personal courage in World War II, such as Lois Lowry's Numberthe Stars. 2004, McElderry Books, Ages 9 to 12.
—Susan Hepler, Ph.D.
Kirkus Reviews
One winter day in 1941, in a German-occupied Dutch town called Sluis, ten-year-old Piet Janssen's ice-skating skills are put to a dangerous test. It's WWII, and Piet's schoolmate Johanna Winkelman's father has been arrested for espionage. Since his friend and her brother are no longer safe at home, Piet must help them escape to their aunt's house in Brugge, skating over icy canals and outsmarting German soldiers until the three cross the Belgian border. The story of this perilous, bitterly cold flight-a race against time-is told in Piet's earnest first-person voice and formatted like poetry, with frequent, often inexplicable line breaks. Themes of bravery, strength, and tradition echo throughout-like the "Swisssshh, swissshhh" of the children's skates. Daly's lovely illustrations, complete with rosy-cheeked innocents and autumnal tones, effectively evoke a sense of time and place in this slow-moving (but nonetheless moving) tale of a child's wartime heroism. (information about the Elfstedentocht, author's note on the history of skating, map) (Picture book. 8-11)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689845024
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/2004
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 288,435
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Louise Borden graduated from Denison University with a degree in history. She taught first graders and preschoolers and later was a part-owner of a bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to writing children’s books, she also speaks regularly to young students about the writing process. Her books include Good Luck, Mrs. K!, which won the Christopher Medal, and The A+ Custodian. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and you can visit her at LouiseBorden.com.

Niki Daly is an award-winning author and illustrator of numerous picture books, including Not So Fast, Songololo. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

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