Monday, May 14, 2007

Gonna Go Back in Time: The Mildred Batchelder Award

I recently read three books that are past winners of the Mildred Batchedler Award, which is awarded to a book that was originally written in a language other than English, and then translated into English. The three Batchelder books featured today have one thing in common: although they are each set in different countries, all three books are about a child's experience during World War II. They convey the absolutely hellish living conditions suffered by the Europeans like few other children's books that I have read.

Friedrich, written by Hans Peter Richter in 1970 and translated from German by Edite Kroll, is the story of a German boy's friendship with a Jewish boy named Friedrich. Through the young narrator's eyes, we see the growing injustices against the German Jews and the effect on his friendship with Friedrich. Although the book is short (138 pages), it packs an enormous emotional punch, particularly with its savage and abrupt ending.

Petros' War, written by Alki Zei and translated from Greek by Edward Fenton, won the Batchelder award in 1974. The misery of Athenian life under the Fascists and Nazis, particularly the starvation of the Greeks, is minutely detailed in this breathtaking book. Petros aids the Greek Resistance, although he doesn't think he is doing much to help. However, he gradually understand that his work has a powerful effect on others.

Finally, we have the 1981 Batchelder winner, The Winter When Time Was Frozen, written by Els Pelgrom and translated from Dutch by Maryka and Rafael Rudnik. Pelgrom tells the story of a Dutch family forced to find refuge with a family in the Dutch farm country. The farm family also shelters a young Jewish baby and an AWOL German soldier at different times. The courage and struggle of the Dutch, the tragedy of a severely mentally disabled seven year old girl, and the joy and heartbreak brought by the Jewish baby is told with devastating effect.

These three books are among some of the most powerful children's books I have read concerning World War II. The reader gains a bit of understanding of the everyday lives of Germans, Greek, and Dutch under Nazi rule. Truly unforgettable reads.

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