Paolo and Constanza’s mother Rosemary Crivelli agrees to take in some fugitive Allied servicemen risking reprisals by the local Gestapo. Their father is away helping the Resistance and the youngsters must play their part in the business, deceiving the Germans and helping the servicemen get away.
Shirley Hughes is most famous for the My Naughty Little Sister series although she has written and illustrated many other books over the years. This one, as the author notes in a preface, is based on real-life events recounted to her not long after the war by a family similar to the Crivellis.
It’s a boldly-drawn look through a keyhole into the events of a few days in a little village in Nazi-controlled Italy. A pair of Allied servicemen take shelter with Rosemary, who was born English before she married her Italian husband. There is very real danger of the usual wartime sort. But also very real people facing up to it with heroism and courage. Rosemary herself simply wants to keep her family together until the war is over and her husband home. Paolo is a teenage boy eager for risk and adventure but who is close to his sister and his mother. Constanza wants her father back but is older than Paolo and old enough to understand better the risks they run. She’s also old enough to fall for the Canadian serviceman who hides in their house and to be attractive to a young German officer who, at a certain moment, finds enough evidence to denounce them.
There’s a general background of traditional piety among the villagers, but also of warmth and solidarity even when things go wrong. One of the villagers is taken by the Gestapo and is only released once he’s pointed to the Crivellis house as the hiding place. The Canadian manages to get away before the Germans arrive. But the villager, appalled by what he’s done, confesses to the village priest and later the Crivellis themselves.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. This review first appeared on goodtoread.org