The dramatic story of neighbors in a small Danish fishing village who, during the Holocaust, shelter a Jewish family waiting to be ferried to safety in Sweden.
It is 1943 in Nazi-occupied Denmark. Anett and her parents are hiding a Jewish woman and her son, Carl, in their cellar until a fishing boat can take them across the sound to neutral Sweden. The soldiers patrolling their street are growing suspicious, so Carl and his mama must make their way to the harbor despite a cloudy sky with no moon to guide them. Worried about their safety, Anett devises a clever and unusual plan for their safe passage to the harbor.
Based on a true story.
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About the Author
"Rounding out this literary threesome of resistance and escape is 'The Whispering Town, ' a picture book written by Jennifer Elvgren and illustrated by Fabio Santomauro. The setting is a Danish fishing village, but one of the book's charms is how little context you need to understand it: There's a war, and Anett's family is hiding refugees and sneaking them to safety by boat to neutral Sweden. Anett's job is to bring food to the Jewish mother and child hidden in her basement, where she finds her way down the dark stairs by following the sound of their whispers. When Anett's father worries that the refugees might get lost in the dark when they flee to the harbor, Anett suggests the whole village whisper directions to them as they go. The publisher of 'The Whispering Town' recommends the book for children ages 7 to 11, but it feels appropriate for reading to very young children as an introduction to the subject of the Holocaust. It's definitely the least harrowing of the three books. The threat to the escaping mother and child is only hinted at in the bales of barbed wire that accompany the Nazi soldiers whenever they appear, in the worrying absence of the father in the Jewish family group, and in the villagers' ominous, repeated warning: 'Stay safe.' Santomauro's thoughtful illustrations, with their restrained colors, subtly remind the reader of the village's determined solidarity." -- The New York Times Book Review--Newspaper
"Based on a true incident, this is the story of a two families, one Danish, the other Jewish. Young Anett is told by her mother, 'there are new friends in the cellar.' This is no surprise to the girl; the cellar is where Danish Jews are hidden from the Nazis. The new boy, Carl, and his mother are to remain hidden for two nights until a boat can take them to Sweden. Until then, the other villagers provide bread and eggs and even books. The moonless nights make it difficult to evacuate Carl and his mother, yet as the Nazis come closer, it becomes clear that they must somehow make their way to the harbor. Then, Anett has an idea. That night, the villagers stand in the doorways of their houses, each whispering, 'this way' and forming a chain that leads Carl and his mother to the first step toward safety. The illustrations have the bold look of a graphic novel and use oversize figures to command attention. Both author and illustrator do an excellent job of bringing both the horror and humanity of this story to a level younger children can understand, and there is much of both: Nazis pounding on doors; Carl giving Anett his most prized possession, a heartshaped stone, a last gift from his father. An unusual and strong addition to Holocaust literature." -- Booklist--Journal
"Annet's family is part of the Danish resistance, hiding Jews in their cellar until the hidden refugees can escape by boat to Sweden. Unlike many stories set during the Nazi occupation, this one finds its protagonist, who narrates the story, an already accomplished insurgent: when her mother tells Annet, 'There are new friends in the cellar, ' the girl knows whom to go to in the underground for additional food and even books for the young boy sheltering with his mother. These hushed requests inspire Annet to create a kind of whispering chain to guide the Jews to the harbor on a moonless night. Based on real events that unfolded in the Danish fishing town of Gilleleje, it's a story that feels urgent and refreshingly unsentimental. Elvgren (Josias, Hold the Book) never stops her reportorial storytelling for a speech about why these brave people are defying the Nazis--Annet just knows she has to act. Santomauro, who has a distinctly graphic novel sensibility, uses strong ink lines and a rich neutral palette (save for a few splashes of red) to convey a sense of secrecy, high stakes, and profound moral courage. Ages 7-11. Illustrator's agent: Advocate Art. (Feb.)" -- Publisher's Weekly--Journal
"A picture book proves 'it takes a village' long before people said 'it takes a village'. Whispers and quiet courage turn resistance to Nazis during the Holocaust in Denmark into a heart warming story of supportive action. First person narrative and illustrations deliver danger, fear and heroism. The cruel need to hide to survive is balanced by resourceful support of neighbors and strangers. A family of righteous gentiles hides Jews in their cellar on a regular basis. Anett, their young daughter, treads into the dark to bring them food, guided down the stairs by their whispers. To ease the waiting, she brings library books. Anett replenishes supplies by visiting the baker, the librarian and the farmer; all talk in whispers. After a few days, hidden Jews walk to the town harbor where they board boats to be smuggled to safety in Sweden. Daily the occupying Nazi soldiers bang on doors and threaten townsfolk about protecting Jews. Anett knows how to warn those in her house; she knows how to answer the ugly soldiers. But no one seems to know how to get hidden Jews to the harbor without being caught when there is no moonlight to ensure a secure route. In the story, remembering how whispers get her down stairs, Anett suggests townsfolk stand in their doorways to whisper sequentially, enabling Jews to make the harbor without meeting soldiers. (In history, not all escapes succeeded; one of the exceptions happened in the town, Gilleleje, where this story is set.) The actual tiny fishing village helped 1700, almost one fourth of Danish Jews, board boats for safe passage to a safer land. The cold palette of the art is broken by angry slashes of red. Faces communicate tension. The short, direct lines of text speak worlds. This slim volume is highly recommended for its fine read, for its introduction to sound historical fiction and for its gentle look at a difficult past that cannot be ignored.
Recommended for ages 6 to 9." -- Jewish Book World
"Set in 1943 in Nazi-occupied Denmark, this striking picture book tells the story of a community of townspeople who work together to aid Jews hiding from the Nazis. As the story opens, Anett's mother informs Anett that there are 'new friends in the cellar' and sends the girl down with breakfast for Carl and his mother, who will soon depart by boat. When Anett gathers supplies from likeminded villagers, the baker provides extra bread, the librarian provides extra books, and the farmer provides extra food (''Wish them well, ' he whispered back, giving me extra eggs''). Soldiers begin to search for hidden Jews in the village, and it looks like the dark of the moonless night will keep Carl and his mother from making it to the harbor; fortunately, Anett comes up with the idea of directing the pair through whispers, and the villagers stand on their doorsteps and whisper 'This way' to guide the two to a waiting boat. Elvgren's focused, unsentimentalized narrative is an ideal selection for introducing younger children to the many who stood up to do what was right during the Nazi regime. The spare storytelling style is perfectly matched with the sophisticated yet accessible illustrations, composed of black lines, fields of digital color, and scratchy pen details. A limited palette wherein grays and blues dominate plays to the mystery of the story while the contrasting splashes of dark red add interest. An author's note provides background information and links the events of the story to an actual occurrence in the fishing village of Gilleleje. This is a notable early introduction to the Danish resistance that deserves wide readership." -- Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books--Journal
"This picture book with a graphic novel sensibility tells the story of a young girl, Anett, whose family is harboring Jewish refugees in a Danish fishing village. Anett brings food to the mother and child hidden in her cellar, and helps guide them to boats on one moonless night. The title is derived from her suggestion that the whole town whisper directions to the pair to ensure they don't get lost. Though the book was originally suggested for the 7 to 11 age range, our reviewer, Elizabeth Wein, said it felt appropriate as an introduction to the Holocaust for younger children."--Newspaper
"Residents of a small town in Nazi-occupied Denmark work together to provide a hidden Jewish mother and son safe passage to neutral Sweden.
'New friends' are being harbored in Anett's dark basement for two nights. Though afraid, she allows their whispering voices to lead her down the stairs. Anett brings food from her mother's kitchen and books from the library until the boy and his mother can secretly board a fishing boat that will cross over to Sweden. Most of Anett's daily encounters with neighbors and shopkeepers show that the townsfolk support Anett's family in their dangerous effort. When the Nazis begin to search houses each night, the situation becomes even more perilous for Anett's family, and her father determines that they must be taken to the harbor despite the obscuring clouds. Without moonlight, the Jews are beckoned from door to door, guided only by whispering voices--'This way'--that indicate the route to safety. The direct simplicity of the story's telling serves well as an introduction for younger children to the Holocaust. Dark cartoon sketches reminiscent of Tomi Ungerer in opaque black, blues, grays and khaki green markers and word bubbles with the key words of direction paint the ominous atmosphere.
This uncomplicated narrative of Danish resistance will facilitate teaching and discussion of a difficult yet necessary subject. (author's note) (Picture book. 5-8)" -- Kirkus Reviews