This historical book by Marie McSwigan is published by Dutton Children's Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group and is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
To keep their country's gold from the Nazis, shortly after Hitler's forces had taken over Poland, the adults of Riswyk, Norway, hid it in a cave they made from snow and ice. But once the Nazis fully occupied their land, they had to rely on the children of Riswyk to carry the gold bullion bricks on their sleds to a hidden fjord where a camouflaged boat waited to take the gold to America. This book is based on a true story.
Peter Lundstrom leads the children of Riswyk, with the help of his sister, Lovisa, and friends Helga and Michael, to transport gold bullion bricks past Nazi soldiers and sentries. To do this, their parents create four teams. Two teams make sledding runs to the fjord every day. Their struggle is not just against the Germans, but time. The spring thaw is almost on them, which means the children will no longer be able to sled. They also find creative reasons why the children's school must remain closed, so the children will have time to finish the job.
At the end of six weeks, when the children are close to finishing their task, they feel they are being watched. Jan Lasek, a Pole in a Nazi uniform, discovers what they are doing. Jan is taken to the camouflaged ship, owned by Peter's Uncle Victor. Jan begs Uncle Victor to take him to America. The Nazis robbed Jan of his passport, killed his father and destroyed Poland. He was forced to join the German army because he knew Norwegian, and they needed a translator. While Uncle Victor holds Jan, deciding whether to trust him, the Nazis begin to search for him. Soon after, the Nazis come upon the last group of children, who are delivering gold to Uncle Victor's boat. To keep the Nazis from discovering the gold or the boat, Peter throws a snowball at the Commandant. The Commandant is furious and puts him in a cell in a Nazi barrack. Before Peter can be punished for his crime, Jan rescues him. Uncle Victor, Peter and Jan go to America with the gold.
The parents and adults of the children in this book play a major role in all the decisions made, and they protect the children as much as is humanly possible. When Peter's father leaves to fight against the Nazis, he asks Peter to be the man of the family. When any of the children come up against adult problems, such as finding Nazi spies, they go to trusted adults for direction and wisdom. At one point, Peter is amazed at how the adults of Riswyk have thought of everything. In this instance, he refers to the men who ski all over the town to hide the lone tracks of the children as they get the gold bricks and sled down the hill to a hidden fjord. The adults ask the children to take risks to keep the gold from Nazi hands, but the adults take more risks than the children. When Jan reveals that he has been spying on the children, Uncle Victor and a fellow sailor gag and tie Jan and take him away before most of the children even know he has found their secret. In the end, Uncle Victor does not want to sail to America with the gold if it means leaving Peter behind to suffer the consequences of a Nazi prisoner. He, Jan and others come up with a plan to rescue Peter.
Other Belief SystemsThe Nazi Germans believe they are the superior race.
When Jan tells about what the Nazis did to Poland, he mentions how his father was shot and his mother and siblings fled to Romania. When captured by the Nazis, Jan is thrown into a room and almost dies before he is forced into the infantry as a private. Peter's father leaves to fight in the Norwegian army. The Nazis invade the beach near Riswyk without a fight. When Uncle Victor and Rolls, a sailor, find Jan near Peter, they bind and gag him so he won't scare the children or tell the Germans what the children are doing.
Young Readers' Choice Award, 1945
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- How did the children initially feel about helping the adults keep the gold from the Nazis?
How did Peter feel about it when he made his first sled run and a company of soldiers were in his way?
How did he feel about it as he passed the sentries?
How did he feel about it when he threw the snowball at the Commandant?
How would you feel if you were asked to hide something from an invading army?
- Why did the adults ask the children not to say anything to any of the soldiers?
What might have happened if they had become friends with a nice soldier?
What did the soldiers think of them when they refused to talk to the soldiers?
How did not talking to the Nazis help the children keep their secret?
How can you apply not talking to others about a secret to your life?
- What bad things happened to Jan in his life?
What was he willing to risk to save Peter?
What did he get in return?
- Why did the people of Riswyk want to hide their gold bullion from the Nazis?
What were they afraid the Nazis would do with it?
- What did the people of Riswyk do well?
What did they do poorly?
What happened because of their hard work?
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