#246 – The Secret of the Village Fool by Rebecca Upjohn

The Secret of the Village Fool

The Secret of the Village Fool

by Rebecca Upjohnlogo_123377_web (1)

Renné Benoit, illustrator

Second Story Press

6 Stars

Cover Jacket: Munio and his younger brother Milek live in a sleepy village in Poland where nothing exciting seems to happen. One of their neighbors is a poor man named Anton, who is so gentle that he won’t eat meat and he won’t harm so much as a fly. While the rest of the town makes fun of Anton, the boys’ mother is kind to him, often sending her reluctant sons with soup and clothing for the “fool” no one respects.

When war comes to their country, everything changes. The Nazi solders march into the town and begin to round-up Jewish boys like Milek and Munio. Anton worries about them and their parents, and comes up with a plan to hide them. Anton’s courage and kindness shine through, proving that fierce bravery can come from the most gentle of people.

First Sentence:  Milek and his brother, Munio, lived in a sleepy village in Poland.

anton in garden

World War II is ravaging Europe, yet has missed the small “sleepy” village in Poland, where brothers Milek and Munio live with their parents. Anton, a quiet man who keeps to himself, also lives in this village. Anton refuses to eat meat, smells like dirt, and has been heard talking to his plants and animals. Anton also has big bright eyes that see the precious value of every life. Most residents call Anton “The Village Fool” because of his lifestyle. The young brother’s mother is an exception, often sending the boys to Anton’s with food and old clothing. On one particular day, a rough, mean neighbor saw the boys at Anton’s home. The neighbor threatened them all:

“Watch out who you choose as your friends, Suchinski. Those boys are Jews. I’d stay away from them if I were you.”
Anton’s smile disappeared. “That’s an ugly thing to say.”
“You really are a fool, aren’t you? War is coming. When Hitler’s armies arrive here, these Jews will be in trouble.

Anton did not like what this mean-spirited man said, but also knew it was true. His friends would be in danger. Anton had a plan that he believed would save everyone. With the boy’s father, Anton shoveled out a tunnel from the root cellar to a small underground space.  Here, the family, plus two young girls who had lost their entire families, would live until the war ended. They would huddle in that underground space for more than a year. The family endured extreme hunger, physical maladies,  and much more while crammed in a space too small for six people. Above ground, Anton risked his life sheltering the family and each day he tried to bring home food for seven without drawing any suspicions. His penalty would be death, if his secret was revealed .

 The Secret of the Village Fool is a compassionate story of the human spirit to persevere unspeakable atrocities and cruel pain. Some, like Anton, had an extraordinary sense of empathy and daring in the face of pure evil. 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.

germans search root cellwr

The Secret of the Village Fool is a horrible story to have lived, yet these brave people did just that. The amount of evil some people possess is terrifying. That Hitler could motivate, or scare, others into fighting, murdering, and performing cruel acts upon innocent people is beyond words. This is a horrible story. Four children, two who had their family’s taken away to who-knows-where, and two adults endure unbelievable torture simply to live in peace. I feel at odds saying I loved the story.

I loved the simple, no-nonsense writing that kids will have no trouble understanding, yet should not be scared after reading, nor have nightmares. I loved the simple illustrations that told the story in art as well as it was told in words. The illustrations are in sepia, adding to the feel of life in a dirt hole. Together, those words and art make an extraordinary book about one hero who had to put six people in an environment I would never enter, simply to save them. It is surely a conundrum to like a horrible story about another’s suffering, yet I do.

boys as girls

The Secret of the Village Fool can be an immensely important tool in young children’s history classes or for those home-schooled. In addition to the actual story, the author has provided what she calls “What Happened After.” This three and one-half spreads of photographs and text tell the story of each person after the war ended up to the present, when possible. This section caused ear-to-ear grins, a few tears of joy, and one heartbreak followed closely by exuberance.

These stories, as horrible, and cruel, and sad as they are need retold generation after generation so that maybe, just maybe, this will never occur again. The age range is from seven to twelve, but the younger children will need help understanding how this fits into a war. The Secret of the Village Fool is a must read for 2013 and the first 6 star review here at Kid Lit Reviews.

The Secret of the Village Fool

by Rebecca Upjohn                       website

Renné Benoit, illustrator                  website

Second Story Press, publisher             website

Released on September 1, 2012        Trailer

ISBN: 978-1-926920-75-7

36 Pages

Ages 7 – 12

Copyright © 2012 by Second Story Press, used with permission

Text copyright © 2012 by Rebecca Upjohn

Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Renné Benoit

book donated to library courtesy of author & publisher

11 thoughts on “#246 – The Secret of the Village Fool by Rebecca Upjohn

  1. Pingback: Reviews of Movies & TV Shows » Pawn Stars: The Complete Season One

  2. Thanks very much for the positive review of The Secret of the Village Fool. We are the publisher of the book, and we really believe in the importance of this story. It’s wonderful to see it being so well received and the amazing work of Rebecca Upjohn and Renné Benoit being recognized.


  3. Thank you, Sue, for your generous review. One of the privileges of writing this story was having the Zeigers and the Adlers entrust their stories to me. It took a long time to research and write in spite of it being only 36 pages but the one thing clear from beginning to end was the love the families felt for Anton and what a remarkable human being he was.


  4. I also read and reviewed this book and thought that it was a perfect picture book. Yes, some of the subject matter is difficult but well handled, but it is also the story of a hero, one person who made the difference of saving 4 lives. That is what needs to be highlighted, I think.


    • Thank for for being here and sharing. I do appreciate it. I did want to correct one thing. Anton, the hero, saved 6 lives. The family of 2 sons, mom and dad, plus two young girls who were alone because the Nazis took their families away while the girls were somewhere else. But you are so right about the difference one person can make in this world and the subject matter was treated in a manner perfect for children.

      I am going to check out your site. It sounds like something I would like to follow. I hope you enjoyed your time here at Kid Lit Reviews and will return again. Did you arrive from the Kid Lit Hop #7?


    • This is a picture book for ages 7 and up, which is close enough to say the middle grades. Any younger and someone will need to explain a lot to the youngster. I think it used 4 extra pages for just the back story of what happened to each person after the wars. It is an amazing book.

      The same publisher sent me another WWII “picture book” for later in the month. They want it reviewed on the International Holocaust Memorial Day (I may have slaughtered that name, but I’ll get it correct on the 27th),


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