Museum Fellowship Book Reviews

 
 

book cover used by permission of Morrow Junior BooksThe Shadow Children
Stephen Schnur
New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1994

Reviewed by:
Ilona Shechter

Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School
Palo Alto, California

 
 

World War II has ended. Etienne can once again visit his beloved Grandpère in the French countryside. The village has survived the war relatively unscathed, except for a dark secret the villagers live with.

On arrival, Etienne notices a group of children, ragged, thin and wretched, standing by the side of the road. He asks his grandfather about them but grandfather says he must be seeing things. Etienne, over the course of the summer, has many more meetings with these "shadow children" who only he seems able to see. 

He asks his grandfather's aging housekeeper about them and slowly the sad history of these children begins to emerge. They were all Jewish children fleeing from the Nazis in occupied France. They sought refuge wherever they could, including this village.

As Etienne's involvement with the children and his knowledge about them become greater, his realization of the destruction of the Jews becomes stronger as well. Finally, in a burst of anguish, his grandfather tells him the entire story of these children who had sought refuge and were given up by the villagers to the Nazis.

The story comes to a climax with Etienne's grandfather asking the question: "What could we do? It was we or they." Etienne begins to see the terrible decisions that were made by the village and what they are forced to live with now.

The book is an extraordinary story of compassion and helplessness, of decisions between being a rescuer and a bystander, and learning to live with the consequences of your actions.

The book is appropriate to middle school but I have read it to high school students and have had them write about the decisions made by the village. It is a sad little book, beautifully written, and deals sensitively with the issues of World War II, responsibility, betrayal, and growing up. 

The book can be read in one lesson with some skillful editing and omission of extraneous passages. A discussion should follow after the students have had time to reflect upon the story. 

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