It is 1941, and the German Army occupies The Netherlands. A young Dutch boy named Piet has been given the task of escorting two neighborhood children to safety in Brussels. The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands, by Louise Borden, is the exciting story of Piet Janssen. He live in the town of Sluis in the Netherlands. His town is on the border between The Netherlands and Brussels. During the winters there, it is so cold that the canals freeze and the ice is thick enough to skate on. In fact, skating is a form of transportation for many people in the Netherlands.
Piet loves to skate. He also idolizes a skater named Pim Mulier who once skated through eleven towns. Many Dutch have skated through towns, but the route that Pim took has its own name, the Elfstedentocht (the Eleven Towns Race). Piet has been training to duplicate this race and finish just like his idol Pim Mulier. But in December of 1941, many of the Dutch were concerned with much more than a race along the canals. Their country was occupied by Germany. Because of the war, many fathers were gone. They had joined the Allied forces in England.
The author of Hans Brinker, a famous book about poor children who lived in Holland, grew up rather rich and never visited Europe. She was a New York City girl, born on January 26, 1831, to a well-off family who helped her on the way to becoming a beloved children's writer and magazine editor. This writer had an unusual and privileged background. Miss Mary Mapes did not go to school with everyone else. She was taught at home by tutors and governesses. There she studied French, Latin, music, drawing, and literature. Her family's circle of friends included some very intelligent people. Horace Greeley, a hugely important newspaper publisher, and the famous poet-journalist William Cullen Bryant were often hosted at the Mapes home.
From The Fredericksburg News, Thursday, January 10, 1878
THE ICE HARVEST is a large one, and the business activity of the past few days to gather it in, has been a stirring scene on our wintry streets. Men and horses, waggons and carts, have improved the fleeting hours in the most rapid manner and the rumble of wheels over the icy ground has been unceasing from morning till night. Mr. A. P. Rowe's pond has furnished a large amount of excellent ice, about five inches thick, and all the Ice houses in town and country will be filled with this indispensable luxury, of home production this Season.