________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 16 . . . . April 12, 2002

cover Shoes for Amélie.

Connie Colker Steiner. Illustrated by Denis Rodier.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2001.
41 pp., cloth, $17.95.
ISBN 1-894222-37-7.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

*** /4


Pepe understood at once. "She's gone," he said.

"Yes, and I can never find her. I don't even know who she is," I said. "Her name isn't really Amelie."

"You know who she is," Pepe replied. "She's your friend. Someday she'll come back and find you."

He took the shoes. "Since we have time, we can paint the flowers you drew. You choose the color. And we can add more varnish. Two coats are best, yes?"

I nodded, yes. Two coats were best. Then I chose red. It was bright and strong, like the girl I called Amelie.

Lucien is a young French boy who lives on a quiet French farm. However, his life is changed by the invasion of the Nazis. He sees his father and brother engaged in secret work and his mother sheltering strangers in their farmhouse. His family dismisses Lucien's offers to help because he is the youngest, but finally he gets the chance when a young girl, Amélie, comes to stay. Lucien discovers that Amélie is not like other girls. A city girl, she knows about many different things that Lucien has never heard of - cinemas, movie stars and cowboys. Amélie educates him about the world, and Lucien introduces her to the wonders of nature and the life of a farmer. He keeps her busy and, through their work and play, keeps her mind off the dangers she faces. As a gesture of friendship, Lucien gets his grandfather, also excluded from daily activities by his age and infirmity, to teach him to make sturdy sabots (wooden shoes) for Amélie to play in. Sadly, Lucien's gift is never delivered. Amélie has been moved to another location, and Lucien learns that he cannot send his present. Amélie is just a cover name; he does not even know who his friend is.

     Based on the true stories of the villagers and farmers in the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon region of France who sheltered approximately 5000 Jewish and other refugees during the Nazi terror, Shoes for Amélie offers insight into the way people all over occupied Europe helped fight the war without guns. The farmers were Protestants, Hugenots who, themselves, had experienced religious persecution for centuries. These brave people risked certain death from the barbaric Nazi regime, but they persevered nonetheless and made a significant contribution to the war effort, to the honour of their country and to humanity. Despite the danger and shortages of food for their own families, they made sacrifices that saved thousands of lives. Children, as well as adults took part, and this is a story of the small way that one such child helped. Even though the relationships were brief and cloaked in code names, each life was changed forever.

     Connie Colker Steiner has created a thought-provoking book suitable for children who are just beginning to read books about issues. The characters are outlined simply but are realistic. Narrated by Lucien, his frustrations reflect those of a young child who wants to participate in important adult activities; his joy in finding a friend is matched by his disappointment but acceptance when Amélie leaves. Lucien has performed an important job. He grows a little more, and he finds hope in his grandfather's words of optimism.

     The small book format is appropriate for a book that can be "secreted" away. Denis Rodier's brightly coloured paintings and miniatures that appear at the end of each chapter make the story very real. The setting is a beautiful valley, a contrast to the ugly war and horror with which Amélie is threatened.

Highly recommended.

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364