fiction favorites…The Little Riders

   The Little Riders, by Margaretha Shemin, illustrated by Peter Spier

“They didn’t give us any reasons,” Grandfather answered, “but we have seen this coming for a long time…The little riders are made of lead.  The G ermans need metal and they may throw them into a melting pot to make munition out of them for their armies.  Everywhere the occupied countries are being plundered, their treasures taken away and the bells of their churches melted down to be made into weapons.  Grandmother and I have often talked of what to do if this ever threatened to happen to the little riders.”
Grandfather patted Johanna’s hand gently.  “We  will have to hide the riders, Johanna, if we want to keep them for the town.  Go to sleep now, there is much to be done tomorrow.”

Johanna is a young American girl, living with her grandparents in occupied Holland during WWII.  From her garret window she loves to watch the  mechanized figures in the village clocktower which perform each time the clock strikes the hour,  just as they have for hundreds and hundreds of years.  Twelve shining knights in armor and their gallant steeds ride out, saluting one another smartly.  The little riders.  Johanna’s grandfather has long been the village caretaker of these town treasures, so when the Nazis threaten to commandeer them, to melt them down for ammunition, he is the one who formulates a plan to save them.

Grandfather’s plan is complicated by the fact that a German officer is billeted in their home, and things take an even more dangerous twist when Nazi soliders come to search the house for the missing riders.  When Johanna’s grandparents are escorted away by the soldiers, it is up to Johanna to quickly devise a new scheme to save both the little riders and her grandparents.

This is an exciting story about the brave and long-suffering Dutch people, primarily focusing on the final year of the war.  It is also a story of coming to terms with the common humanity of young soldiers on both sides of the war.  Bitterness and love, suffering and celebration, fear and courage, all are packed into the short-ish, 70-page book.  Although war tensions and serious difficulties are present in the story, they are not portrayed in stark, gruesome detail, making this a fine book to read aloud to children as young as 7.  Also, even though the protagonist is a young girl, she is stalwart enough to accomodate young boy readers.  Quite a nice read.