In the classroom a young man sat on a chair. He looked very tired. He was not shaved. His clothes were covered with dust. We slipped noiselessly to our benches and waited in dead silence until Sister Gabriel made a sign with her head for the young man to speak…
“Boys and girls, he said, “I have to speak to you just as if you were adults. You know that the Germans occupy France. You know also about the refugees and the DPs?” We nodded. “Now do you know that there are people who not only are refugees and DPs but have absolutely no place to go, because if the Nazis find them they will kill them?”
A shiver ran through the class…
“Will you, boys and girls, help? Will you take with you, here, and hide, ten Jewish boys and girls whose fathers and mothers are dead already?”
Of course we all cried, “Yes! Yes!”
Sister Gabriel spoke up, “I did not expect less from you boys and girls. But you must understand what this means. The Nazis are looking for those children. If we take them we must never let on that they are here. Never. Even if we are questioned. We can never betray them, no matter what the Nazis do to us. Do you understand?”
Twenty fifth-grade children in a make-shift mountain-top school in WWII France are in for more than they imagine when they agree to hide ten Jewish children from the Nazis. Welcoming these strangers requires sharing their meager rations and sharing their small beds, including them in their games and caring for the especially frightened ones. All this they do, with amazingly unselfish hospitality.
When Nazi soldiers appear to search for the Jewish children, however, and Sister Gabriel is arrested, the children are on their own to think quickly, hide the Jewish children, withstand the soldiers’ menacing treatment, and daringly risk everything to supply the hidden ones with food and safety. Can twenty children outlast and outsmart the Nazis?
Based on a true story, this brief account is an excellent, representative anecdote of the kinds of sacrifice and heroism undertaken by many children in war-torn Europe. A riveting story with a sweet ending, this makes a great read-aloud for kids ages 6 and up, or a nice, shorter chapter book for elementary-age readers. William Pène du Bois’ charcoal illustrations bring the children and place to life in elegant softness.
Here’s an Amazon link: Twenty and Ten (Puffin Story Books)