I was happy to find a copy of The Secret of the Village Fool by Rebecca Upjohn at the thrift store! We had borrowed it from the library a few times, and our youngest son particularly enjoys this true story of a Polish man who risks his life to hide a Jewish family during World War 2.

Anton is known in the village as “the fool.” He can’t read or write, he talks to his plants, and he doesn’t eat meat. He’s the strange old man everybody loves to hate.

However, when the Nazis invade their village and begin arresting Jews, Anton comes up with a plan to keep Milek and Munio’s family safe for the duration of the war.

With cups and spoons, Anton and Tata (Milek and Munio’s father) dig a tunnel by moonlight underneath the dirt floor of his root cellar, just big enough to fit six people.

Anton invents a pulley system that lowers the Zieger family three pails every night: one with food, one with water, and one to collect their waste. He often goes without a meal himself, so they have a little more to eat.

In a child-friendly way, the story contrasts the deep kindness of man who was once scorned for his simplicity, with the horrific, inhumane conditions the Jews were forced to endure.

Near the beginning of the story, Anton gives the two boys dresses and kerchiefs to wear so they have a better chance of fleeing from the synagogue to his home unnoticed by the Nazis and suspicious neighbors.

The mention of this reality in a children’s story made me uncomfortable, but it turned into an opportunity to talk about how boys being dressed as girls is evidence of a culture that does not value human beings as equally precious in God’s sight. Man or woman, Jewish or German, black or white, we are not loving others when we force someone to act like a person God didn’t create them to be.

Overall, I found The Secret Of The Village Fool to be an appropriate book on World War 2 for younger children (recommended as a read-aloud for ages 9 and under). Without being too graphic or detailed, the story illustrates the ugliness of evil, the kindness and compassion of one simple man who had the courage to do the right thing, and power of hope for a better day.