Regular readers know that I’ve read, and reviewed, several picture books by the author/illustrator of today’s Perfect Picture Book. So when I saw he had released a new picture book about such a difficult, but important, topic, you know I had to find and review it!
Title: Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued
Written & Illustrated By: Peter Sís
Publisher/Date: Norton Young Readers/2021
Suitable for Ages: 6-8
Themes/Topics: non-fiction, Holocaust, heroes, refugees
Nicky was born in 1909, into a century full of promise.
Brief Synopsis: The story of a young Englishman and the 669 Jewish children he helped transport to England from Prague during World War II.
Links to Resources:
- Read the Author’s Note about Nicholas Winton, how Sís learned of the “Winton Train” and about Vera Diamantova, one of the rescued children;
- Learn about the Czech Republic, part of the former Czechoslovakia, where much of this story takes place;
- Have you ever journeyed by train? Where did you travel & what did you see? Draw a picture of something you saw on your journey.
Why I Like this Book:
In lyrical language and with gorgeously detailed illustrations, Sís recounts the stories of two people whose lives intersected during World War II. Nicky, readers learn, grew up in England, and as a young man journeyed to Prague to meet a friend on vacation. While there, he realized the plight of young Jewish children, and used grit, determination, and even some of his own funds, to arrange trains to England and find foster families there. Vera, one of those children, “wrote in her diary every day” about her experiences in England.
In all, Nicky managed to fill 8 trains with 669 children and quietly ferry them from Prague, by then controlled by the Nazis, to London in 1939. A two-page spread filled with an illustration of 8 trains is powerful testimony to the many lives he helped save.
A modest hero who, in his own words, “did not face any danger,” and “only saw what needed to be done”, Nicky packed away the records of these children and never told anyone, not even his family, about these actions during the war. As the story ends, readers learn that this quiet hero and the now-grown children were reunited many years after the war.
Not only is Nicky and Vera a true story, but it’s one that introduces children to a type of hero different than the rampaging Super Heroes of comics and movies. Readers learn that heroes, like Nicky, can be quiet and unassuming, who see a wrong and use their time and talents for the greater good, to help as many people as possible.
An internationally renowned artist and illustrator, Sís fills the pages with detailed images of his native Czechoslovakia, the journey to England, and the reunion with several of the children in England.
A Note about Craft:
How do you craft a picture book for young children about an extremely difficult topic, the Holocaust, featuring an adult protagonist? Sís accomplishes this feat by introducing the quiet hero in infancy, spending a few spreads recounting his childhood, and then once he reaches adulthood, Sís introduces one of the young beneficiaries of Nicky’s heroism and tells her story. By focusing on both the hero and one of those saved, I think Sís makes it easier for children to empathize with those who Nicky saved and better understand the importance of this quiet hero’s actions. Note, too, that Sís refers to Nicholas Winton not by his last name, but by a child-friendly nickname, which, I think, makes him seem more childlike to readers. At 64 pages, Nicky and Vera is longer than the typical picture book, but I can’t imagine telling this story in fewer spreads.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!