Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 6 to 10
- Grade: 2 to 4
- Reading age: 7 to 9
Milek and his brother, Munio, live in a sleepy village in Poland, where nothing exciting seems to happen. They have a kind and gentle neighbour named Anton, but the people of the village laugh at Anton and call him the village fool because he talks to animals and only eats vegetables. When the war brings Nazi soldiers to town, life changes. The Nazis begin rounding up Jewish boys like Milek and Munio. Anton worries about them and comes up with a plan to hide the whole family in his own home, putting his life at risk without a thought. Based on a true story. The back of the book outlines what happened to Anton and the others after the war, and includes photographs. Anton was honoured both by Poland and by the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, where he was named one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
About the authors
Rebecca Upjohn has worked as an architectural photographer, sheep farmhand, bookstore helper, and more recently a writer and film producer for an independent short film for children called The Go Cart. Rebecca lives in Toronto with her husband, Don and their two sons, Harris and Emmett. The author of the picture books Lily and the Paper Man and Patrick’s Wish, she is interested in characters who reach out to help others. She divides her time between New Hampshire and Ontario.
Renné Benoit is living her childhood dream of being an artist. Trained in graphic design, she is the award-winning illustrator of more than 15 books for children. Her awards include the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award for Children's Literature for Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion; the OLA Silver Birch Express Award for The Secret of the Village Fool; and the Christie Harris Illustrated Children's Literature Prize for both Fraser Bear and Goodbye to Griffith Street. The latter was also nominated for the Amelia Frances Howard Gibbon Award. Big City Bees was nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Illustration, and A Year of Borrowed Men was a finalist for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, among others. Renné lives in St. Thomas, Ontario.
- Winner, Ontario Library Association Silver Birch Express Award
- Short-listed, Ontario Library Association Golden Oak Award
- Commended, Bank Street, Children's Book Committee, Best Children's Books of the Year
The Secret of the Village Fool, well told, beautifully illustrated and expertly researched (timeline, facts & photographs included in the after), belongs in your library.
Jewish Kids Book Circle
This picture book is a good starting place for introducing children to the Holocaust. They will learn that Jewish people were hated by the Nazis, that people for forced out of their homes and send away, that children and parents were sometimes separated, and that neighbors either looked the other way or colluded with the Nazis. But they will also see that not everyone agreed with what was happening, that there was a minority who didn't and some who even risked their lives to help.
The Children's War
Ms. Upjohn wrote a phenomenal story in words and terms children can understand. Add Benoit’s extraordinary artwork that imagines in detail what this family went through, and the book becomes an extraordinary slice of World War II.
Kid Lit Reviews
A true story, showing courage and kindness during a time of war.
Polish American Journal
Rebecca Upjohn tells [Anton's] story in "The Secret of the Village Fool", a picture book about this improbable hero and the Jews he saved during World War II. … At the end of the book we see a wonderful black-and-white photograph of Anton, postwar, surrounded by proud, beaming villagers.
Wall Street Journal - U.S Edition
An excellent spring board in understanding oppression and social justice, humanitarianism, the Holocaust in World War II and the courage of people to stand up and fight for right, this book is highly recommended for inclusion in school and classroom libraries.
This picture book offers easy reading narration which will appeal to both fiction and nonfiction readers in the junior grades.
The Secret of the Village Fool is a must read for 2013 and the first 6 star review here at Kid Lit Reviews.
Kid Lit Reviews
Sometimes we forget that true stories like this are actually true. There is a straight line from these young boys pre-war, through their wartime experiences, to the photographic record which follows the narrative. When the reality of that fully strikes the reader, it’s overwhelming...This is why people tell stories. This is why we read them. To remind us of the wonder in our world.
Buried in Print
This book is a great introduction to the second world war and recent European history, as well as a heartwarming story of how standing up for your beliefs in the face of opposition is a heroic thing to do. Benoit's illustrations are great at bringing the reader into the time period and also for creating a feeling of empathy with the worried young people.
Perogies & Gyoza Book Blog
Beautiful, evocative illustrations painted in a subdued palette mirror the tone of the story.
Canadian Teacher Magazine
The story has obvious tie-ins to history, world religion and culture and is remembered and honoured at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem. This poignant story of terror and loss is ultimately a moving story of heroism and hope.
The book is based on true events, and the epilogue, complete with photos, fills the reader in on what has happened to all those involved. The story is a tearjerker in all the right ways—neither overtly didactic nor overly sentimental. It, nevertheless, both teaches history and illustrates human compassion in unexpected places with its moving, straightforward narrative. ... This is a great book for elementary school age children who are learning about the Holocaust and is sure to provoke much discussion. Highly recommended for ages 8 and up. Starred Review.
Jewish Book World
The content is delivered in easy to understand and compassionate language. Further, the story provides teachable moments surrounding human nature.
With a reporter’s eye for action and detail, she brings alive the horror, deprivation, and even boredom that the hidden Jews face while Anton, who never sheds his oddness, bravely denies their presence to both the Germans and the anti-Semitic villagers.
The Secret of the Village Fool was a great educational children's book. Not only will the children like it for the eye catching illustrations and interesting story line but adults will like it as well because it teaches factual information about WWII.
Kayla's Reads and Reviews
This picture book introduces a very difficult topic to young children. It could be used to explore themes of tolerance and acceptance of different beliefs and customs within a community, and discrimination on a larger scale using the holocaust as one example.
Canadian Teacher Magazine
Modern children are so far removed from the Holocaust that it is extremely difficult to convey its horrors. Upjohn makes this true story personal, immediate and accessible without resorting to bathos or sentimentality. Benoit’s sepia-tinted, ominously shadowed illustrations convey darkness, fear and uncertainty.
The Secret of the Village Fool shows Anton to be not a fool, but an angel, especially to those whose lives he saved and to their children, grandchildren and others they were able to touch. And to those of us fortunate enough to read this story.
CanLit for Little Canadians