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Posted November 2, 2012
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.