The Secret of the Village Fool

( 1 )


Milek and his brother Munio live in a sleepy village in Poland, where nothing exciting seems to happen. They reluctantly do as their mother asks when she asks them to visit their neighbor Anton, knowing that the rest of the village laughs at him because of his strange habits of speaking to animals and only eating vegetables. Things change quickly when war comes to their town in the form of Nazi soldiers searching for Jewish families like that of Milek and Munio. Anton refuses to tell the soldiers where to find ...
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Milek and his brother Munio live in a sleepy village in Poland, where nothing exciting seems to happen. They reluctantly do as their mother asks when she asks them to visit their neighbor Anton, knowing that the rest of the village laughs at him because of his strange habits of speaking to animals and only eating vegetables. Things change quickly when war comes to their town in the form of Nazi soldiers searching for Jewish families like that of Milek and Munio. Anton refuses to tell the soldiers where to find them, and then goes so far as to hide the family in his own home, putting his life at risk without a thought. Based on a true story.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Munio and Milek can’t understand why their mother is so kind to Anton, the gentle, illiterate outcast who everyone else thinks of as the village fool. “People said he thanked the sun and rain for growing his plants.... And they said he put out bowls of sugar water to feed the flies.” But when Nazis arrive and begin rounding up the village’s Jewish boys, it is Anton who saves Munio and Milek by hiding them, their parents, and two other Jews in a secret underground space. Benoit’s (Fraser Bear: A Cub’s Life) illustrations have a sameness that threatens to undercut this true story’s urgency, but this is a text-driven book and Upjohn (Lily and the Paper Man) shines. With a reporter’s eye for action and detail, she brings alive the horror, deprivation, and even boredom that the hidden Jews face while Anton, who never sheds his oddness, bravely denies their presence to both the Germans and the anti-Semitic villagers. The final pages, “What Happened After,” explain how Anton, long thought dead, was reunited with the grateful family in the 1980s and named a Righteous Gentile at Yad Vashem. Ages 7–up. (Oct.)
Canadian Teacher Magazine
"Beautiful, evocative illustrations painted in a subdued palette mirror the tone of the story...Because it is a true story and provides photographs of the people involved in an Afterword, young readers will be likely to make connections to their own lives and families."
CM Magazine
"Read like a picture book, with thought-provoking and reflective coloured illustrations by award-winning illustrator Renné Benoit, this story is based on true events. Intended for a younger elementary school age audience, The Secret of the Village Fool could be read in a classroom, or with a caregiver, leading to a discussion of the Holocaust. The content is delivered in easy to understand and compassionate language."
Resource Links
"An excellent spring board in understanding oppression and social justice, humanitarianism, the Holocaust in World War II and the courage of people to stand up and fight for right."
Southwest Ohio and Neighboring Libraries (SWON)
"[This] poignant true story is related with expressive soft illustrations. Children today will learn much of the tragedy of the Holocaust with this story."
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—This picture book recounts the story of Anton Suchinski and the Jews he hid during the Holocaust. Photographs and further information are included in the back matter, explaining what happened to these people after the war. No graphic violence is depicted, and the writing style is simple and clear, accessible even for younger children. The book is an excellent introduction to the concept of the "Righteous Gentile." The gentle writing and softly realistic watercolors make this a fairly nonthreatening look at the era, but any Holocaust picture book requires adult mediation, which will help this one find its older audience, even if children are initially turned off by the "babyish" format.—Heidi Estrin, Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL
Kirkus Reviews
A gentle, unassuming man's courage and fortitude saves a Jewish family during the Holocaust in this tale taken from history. When the Nazis conquered Poland and took over their village, Munio, Milek, Mama, Tata and all the Jews of the village were in immediate danger. True to form, the Nazis quickly burned the synagogue and began roundups of whole families and all the young boys. Their neighbor Anton, a kind, simple man many call a fool, brings girls' clothing for the boys to disguise themselves temporarily. Then he prepares a hiding place under his house, basically an earthen dugout where they and two girls whose families were taken away will spend the remaining years of the war. Anton is their only contact, constantly risking his life to feed them and keep them safe. Amazingly, at the very moment of near discovery, the Nazis are driven from the village. Modern children are so far removed from the Holocaust that it is extremely difficult to convey its horrors. Upjohn makes this true story personal, immediate and accessible without resorting to bathos or sentimentality. Benoit's sepia-tinted, ominously shadowed illustrations convey darkness, fear and uncertainty. An afterword accompanied by copious photos tells of the participants' eventful postwar lives, including Anton's induction at Yad Vashem as Righteous among Nations. Young readers will need some guidance and input from knowledgeable adults. Powerful and deeply moving. (Picture book. 8-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781926920757
  • Publisher: Second Story Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2012
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Edition description: Library Edition
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 1,023,743
  • Age range: 7 - 10 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Rebecca Upjohn has worked herding sheep, photographing buildings, selling books, releasing trees and producing a short film. She and her husband live with their two teenage sons and a dog in Toronto. Rebecca's first book, Lily and the Paper Man (Second Story Press), was published in 2007. Visit for more information.

Renné Benoit has been drawing pictures since she could hold a crayon. She works out of her home studio in St. Thomas, Ontario, where she lives with her husband, their daughter and their dog. Her recent work includes Goodbye to Griffith Street, which won the Christie-Harris Illustrated Children's Literature Prize in 2005. Some of her favorite things are thunderstorms, fireflies, practical jokes, and the first snow. You can visit her website at

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 2, 2012

    An Unexpected Hero!

    An Unexpected Hero! Based on a true story, Rebecca retells the story of Anton Suchinski.

    Milek and his brother Munio are taking some supplies to Anton. They squawk at the chore because Anton is strange, they say. Villagers call him a fool because he can’t read or write, because he talks to animals and plants, and because he never eats meat. But Mama insists, as she tells them, her hands on hips, “Anton may have his own way of doing things, but he is a good man.”

    These are dark and fearful days for the Polish village. Adolf Hitler marches through Europe, his soldiers arresting the Jewish people to take them away to camps. Neighbors are turning against neighbors out of fear of reprisal. Suddenly, neighbors are looking at Milek’s family with the same suspicions because they are Jewish.

    When the soldiers finally reach the village, they announce they come for all the boys, and kill anyone who gets in their way. When they threaten to take away Milek and Munio, Anton comes up with a plan: he disguises them as girls! But the danger isn’t over. Nazi soldiers burn the synagogue and the sacred books. Anton must hide Mama and the boys, and others, as the soldiers now hunt for all the Jewish people.

    Rebecca’s deceptively simple prose carries the full tense, emotive impact of a desperate time in history, effectively making it personal and accessible to young readers. Renne Benoit’s sepia-tinted illustrations carry this tension as Anton hides the families in his basement, using darker tones and shadow to illustrate their despair and fear.

    The author’s afterward brings the story to a satisfying – if not tear-jerking – end as she tells what happens to the family after the harrowing year in the basement. After the war, Milek and Munio move to the United States, keeping in touch with Anton through the years. In the 1960s, the letters stop coming. Just as Anton once saved them, now the brothers work to find and save their friend.

    This is an amazing story about finding courage when and where you least expect it.

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