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The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands    by Louise Borden & Niki Daly order for
Greatest Skating Race
by Louise Borden
Order:  USA  Can
Margaret K. McElderry, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The Greatest Skating Race is based on a true story of events in German-occupied Netherlands during World War II, 1941. Ten-year old Piet Janssen and his family reside in the southern part of Sluis (pronounced Sloice as in voice). While Piet's father fights in the war, his grandfather works in the family skate shop. Piet dreams of skating in a famous race, the 'Elfstedentocht' ('Eleven Towns Race', pronounced 'Elf-STAY-Den-Tockt'). His hero, Pim Mulier, skated to each of the eleven towns (200 kilometers) on frozen canals, and accomplished the strenuous undertaking in one day.

Piet returns home from school proudly clutching his 'perfect-grade' spelling paper, but immediately senses that 'something was wrong'. Grandfather explains that Mr. Winkelman has been arrested for espionage, and the two Winkelman children are in danger. They decide that Piet, Johanna, and her brother Joop will skate the icy canals to their Aunt Ingrid's home in Brugge, across the border into Belgium. The journey north is a dangerous one. The three youngsters pass German checkpoints, skating in freezing winter temperatures, and crawling under crossover canal bridges. Detained at one point, Piet explains to two German soldiers, 'My name is Piet Janssen, sir ... I am headed to Brugge with my sister and brother to see our aunt. She needs our help in gathering wood for her stove, and I will repair her bicycle while I am there.'

Louise Borden's tale of a 'race-against-time' is narrated in Piet's voice. Borden is a veteran author with more than a dozen children's books under her belt, including The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II and Sea Clocks. She writes from the heart. Niki Daly's illustrations - in muted colors of red, brown, and grey, with expressive, red-cheeked faces - elicit a slow-sense of time and movement. Notes in the back of the book tell of Piet's participation in the Eleven Towns Race in 1954 and 1956. Piet says 'Many in Sluis say that this rescue of two children was my greatest race'. A map and information about the Elfstedentocht is included, giving the skating records of Dutch sports journalist Willem (Pim) Johan Herman Mulier (1865-1954). Thick ice conditions are a must for canal skating; the last race noted in Borden's book is in 1997, with 17,000 skaters participating.

The Greatest Skating Race speaks of courage, strength, and tradition. It is inspirational, and Piet lingers in a reader's mind and heart for a long time. I unhesitatingly recommend this great story as one that old and young will enjoy reading together, over and over.

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