- Wini Ashooh
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.
Piet had a classmate; her name was Johanna. Her father had not joined the Allied forces because he had been arrested by the German soldiers. Johanna's mother thought it best to send Johanna and her young brother, Joop, to live with their aunt in Brugge, Belgium. The best way to get there was to skate along the frozen canals until they reached the border between The Netherlands and Belgium. Once they had crossed the border, they would be safe. But the children could not do it alone. Piet, who was 10-years-old, was asked to escort them. Along the way, the children must keep their wits about them as they have some close calls with the German soldiers.
As the reader travels with Piet and his young charges, a compelling story of courage and perseverance unfolds. This is a picture book that will appeal to all readers but can be particularly enjoyed by the older picture book reader or young chapter book reader. The illustrations by Niki Daly beautifully complement the story. The whole family can enjoy this one and will cheer when Piet and the children arrive safely in Belgium. The author has also provided some historical information at the end of the book.