Hide and Seek, Robin Scott-Elliot’s third children’s book, is powerful historical fiction inspired by reality, by the lives of those whose bravery we cannot begin to imagine and whose dedication we should never forget. This is a World War 2 story told with respect and skill prompting emotions from sorrow to admiration as the reader become engrossed in this tense and enthralling adventure.
It is Summer, 1942 in Paris and thirteen-year-old Amélie Dreyfus is playing hide and seek with her family in their city centre apartment . She is scrunched up in her favourite hiding place at the back of her mother’s wardrobe when she hears the banging and thumping of German soldiers arriving. When all is quiet again and Amélie comes out of the wardrobe her world has changed. Her family have been taken away by the Nazis and Amelie is all alone. She now has to learn how to survive but Amélie also decides to fight back.
The young girl hiding in the wardrobe, the feel of a fur coat next to her is, to many readers, reminiscent of the Narnian adventure in which a child finds herself in another world, so the opening chapter of Hide and Seek has that sense of familiarity to it. However although Amélie finds a different world when she opens the wardrobe door it is one that scares rather than excites her. Without her family she must find a way to fend for herself in Nazi occupied Paris alone. Amélie spends time hiding in the quiet of one of the city’s museums where she is befriended by Cecile, the curator, and also a member of the French resistance.
Under Cecile’s guidance Amélie becomes a member of the local group and eventually finds herself travelling to London and Scotland to be trained and sent back to France under a new identity to take part in ever more dangerous missions. Over the three years we accompany her we watch as Amélie grows up far faster than she should, takes on different identities and risks her life to save others. Her childhood game of hide and seek has taken on a much more sinister and dangerous role in her life.
The suspense and tension throughout this story is well written and there are several real ‘heart in the mouth’ moments when as a reader I feared for both Amélie and her friends and allies. The atmosphere of fear and anxiety amongst those who are terrified of discovery by the Nazis is conveyed with skill and within a few pages one feels a bond with Amélie and understands her love of and concern for the family she has lost. The rumours of what has happened to the Jewish families who have been forcibly put on the trains travelling eastwards are present in the background of this adventure which focuses attention on an aspect of the Second World War that does not often feature in children’s fiction. This is both a gripping and tense story and a powerful tribute to those who risked their lives to save others.
Robin Scott-Elliott’s book was inspired by resistance fighters such as Stephen Grady, a British-French schoolboy resistance fighter and female agents such as Violette Szabo, Simone Segouin and Noor Inayat Khan. A photograph of Simone as a teenage girl taken during the liberation of Paris started the author on his path to creating Amélie and as a character she has an authenticity that encourages the reader to care. As I read I felt that I could see her and she came to represent all the brave resistance fighters to me, which I imagine is what Robin Scott- Elliott may have hoped for.
The ending is both powerful and hopeful. It would be impossible to write a story about this period and these people without incorporating loss but this is sensitively handled and the final chapters are, I think, an extremely moving piece of writing. Hide and Seek asks questions about trust, identity and survival and would be an excellent book for readers of 11+ and could be shared in the classroom at KS3 to accompany teaching of WW2 in Europe and the Holocaust.
I should like to thank Fritha Lindqvist and the publishers, Everything With Words for my review copy. Hide and Seek was published on 12th August.
The range of children’s literature set during the Second World War is extensive but I can recommend Anna at War by Helen Peters in which a young Jewish girl is transported to England and safety as part of the Kindertransport programme, After the War by Tom Palmer tells the story of the Jewish children sent to the Lake District after the end of the war and of course When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr is a classic children’s WW2 book and needs no introduction.