The Winged Watchman

When studying World War II, too often the difficulties of living in Nazi-occupied countries is overshadowed by the horrors of the Holocaust.  Books like Winter in Wartime and The Winged Watchman, help children get an understanding of the average person living in such a place.  The place, and time, of both stories happens to be the winter of 1944-1945 in Holland.

As in Winter in Wartime, The Winged Watchman focuses on the courageous Dutch and what they did to help their fellow countrymen survive the difficult winter.  The difference is that author Hilda van Stockum tells the story of The Winged Watchman from the perspective of 10-year-old Joris and his 14-year-old brother Dirk Jan.  The boys are sons of a millwright; their father tends to the windmill which keeps the water out of the farmer’s fields.  Their particular windmill is call the Watchman.

Joris and Dirk Jan’s family is somewhat removed from the famine spreading over Holland that winter, their remote location allows them to grow a garden and keep the produce from the Germans.  However, so many Dutch from the cities wander the countryside searching for food, their mother’s generosity nearly empties their pantry.

As if that isn’t enough, the Watchman becomes a haven for refugees: a Jewish baby hidden from the Nazis, two Dutch girls whose family had to go into hiding, and a philosophy student.  Every once in a while, Joris’ Uncle Cor will pop in with news of the resistance.

The Winged Watchman contains plenty of action – a farmer’s son nearby is a Nazi informer and is intent on catching Joris or his family members in some sort of trouble.  Dirk Jan is sent on a dangerous mission on behalf of the resistance.  And Joris rescues a British airman from Nazi capture.

But it also wrestles with the deeper issues – is it OK to lie to the Germans?  How can we forgive our enemies?  In the midst of it all, Joris is secure in knowing his parents love him – family and generosity are both essential to surviving the Nazi occupation.

Recommended for ages 9 and up.

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