We just read Twenty and Ten, by Claire Huchet Bishop. This was another book I have never heard of by an author I have never heard of. The subject matter is one that I would think would never be introduced to elementary school aged children: the Holocaust. But, the Sonlight curriculum recommended it for first and second graders. So I gave it a try.
The story is about twenty French children living in an orphanage in 1944. We have actually read so many chapter books that the girls are drawing connections between them. When I explained that an orphanage is where a bunch of orphans go to live together, Catherine said that would be so much nicer than what happened to James. I have a much worse memory than she does, so I had no idea what she was talking about. She reminded me that when James (of James and the Giant Peach) lost his parents he had to go live with his mean aunts.
The first chapter is about a game they played called “Make Believe.” This was a mind blowing chapter for my girls. When they play “Make Believe,” it always involves a Disney princess, fairy or a Wizard of Oz character. In the book, the children played a game they called “Flight to Egypt.”
One of the kids was Joseph, one was Mary, and the youngest one was the baby Jesus. Another was the mean King Herod who threatened to kill the baby Jesus. The rest of the children were Egyptians. The Holy Family traveled through a make believe desert from Bethlehem to Egypt. My girls could not believe that they played Bible stories instead of movie and television stories. Life was so much different in 1944!
The twenty French children are cared for by Sister Gabriel, a nun. She agrees to hide out ten Jewish children who are also orphans. The book gently touches on the fact that the German soldiers killed their parents and will kill the children if they find them. The death camps are not mentioned.
As they hide out the children, the French children have to share their food with the Jewish children. Everyone gets less food, as all the food is rationed and they cannot get rations for children they are hiding. My girls live in a land and time of plenty. We have more food than we should or could eat, so the idea of “food rations” was odd to them.
The German soldiers do come to the orphanage looking for Jewish children, but all the children work together to keep them hidden. They even refer to the Germans as being like King Herod, wanting to kill the Jews. My girls and I touched on this Biblical lesson about Jewish people being persecuted throughout all of history. But, that may be more appropriate for older kids.
This was a quick read, only five chapters. It took just a few days. I’d recommend it as a historical novel. I, like most Americans and especially children, tend to think that all people live just exactly like I do. Like the Little House books, this book introduces the children to the fact that life can be different than the East Cobb suburbs of 2012.We have not discussed World War II or the Holocaust with our kids. But, it was a very gentle introduction to those issues. I actually did not explain it any further than “the Germans did not like the Jews and wanted to kill them.” The girls gasped and told me they were breaking one of God’s laws: Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Right!