The subject of Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop has scared many a parent from reading this book aloud to their children. Quite honestly, some children may be too sensitive to listen to or read this book until they are older. You know your child best, do what’s best for him or her.
Twenty and Ten is set in occupied France during World War II. Village children are sent to various locations to live and attend school under the care of their teacher, a nun. The twenty children in this book happen to be fifth-graders, except for one, who is the younger brother of one of the students. Life is difficult, living away from parents and never enough food. Then, the children are asked to hide ten more children – all Jews.
Yes, it’s a difficult topic, but Bishop does a masterful job introducing it to readers through familiar Bible stories. If you have never read Bible stories, you should first read Matthew chapter 2 and John chapter 6 aloud to your children. Bishop uses The Flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:1-18) to gently introduce the idea of the Jews’ precarious position in the world – based upon the hunt for baby Jesus.
The school children have lots of questions about the newcomers – “Why don’t they have ration cards?” The tension builds when Nazi soldiers come to the school hunting the hidden Jewish children while their teacher is in town.
I love how this book introduces difficult topics in a simple manner, while focusing on the resourcefulness and generosity of the children as they welcome the strangers. And Bishop ends the book as she begins it – using a Bible story (Feeding of the Multitudes, John 6:1-13) to introduce a miracle (small, but large in the children’s eyes).
I would highly recommend this book for children five and up, depending upon their sensitivity. If you’re unsure, you can quickly read this book before reading it to your children – it took me only about two hours to read the entire book aloud. My children and I all love this short story with its deep messages.