Review: Peter's War: A Boy's True Story of Survival in World War II Europe

Peter's War: A Boy's True Story of Survival in World War II Europe by Deborah Durland DeSaix and Karen Gray Ruelle, illustrated by Deborah Durland DeSaix 

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer:  Rachel J Fremmer

Peter’s War: A Boy’s True Story of Survival in World War II Europe relates the true story of Peter Feigl, a highly assimilated German Jew who celebrated Christmas. As the Nazi danger grew, his parents even had Peter baptized. Nonetheless, he and his family were, like so many others, eventually forced to flee his home as the Nazis rose to power. First with, and later separated from, his parents, Peter makes his way around Europe as his successive hiding places each become too dangerous, ultimately sneaking across the border to safety in Switzerland in 1944.

The workmanlike prose of Peter’s War is overshadowed by the scrapbook-style art, a combination of actual photographs, watercolor paintings, fragments of Peter’s diary, and a map of Europe with a line denoting Peter’s travels. The documentary nature of the illustrations adds immediacy to the story.

Although a typical picture book trim size, the subject matter, photographs, and extensive text make Peter’s War more appropriate for ages 10 and up.

The book ends with an epilogue, detailed footnotes, a considerable bibliography, and an index, rendering it an excellent jumping-off point for research projects.

Peter's War meets the Sydney Taylor Book Award criterion that it portray an "authentic Jewish experience." The experience of secular and assimilated Jews is sometimes given short shrift in Jewish literature and this book begins to fill that gap. However, the authors missed an opportunity to discuss Peter's attitude, both past and present, towards Judaism in more depth, especially given that they interviewed him in person.

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Reviewer Rachel J Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-elementary-school librarian. She is a native New Yorker and lives there with her husband two daughters, ages 15 and 12, who are rapidly outgrowing her area of book expertise. She loves baking and doing crossword puzzles.