Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“I did not face any danger, as real heroes do. I only saw what needed to be done.”
In 1938, twenty-nine-year-old Nicholas Winton saved the lives of almost 700 children trapped in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia – a story he never told and that remained unknown until an unforgettable TV appearance in the 1980s reunited him with some of the children he saved.
Czech-American artist, MacArthur Fellow, and Andersen Award winner Peter Sís dramatises Winton’s story in this distinctive and deeply personal picture book. He intertwines Nicky’s efforts with the story of one of the children he saved, a young girl named Vera, whose family enlisted Nicky’s aid when the Germans occupied their country. As the war passes and Vera grows up, she must find balance in her dual identities one her birthright, the other her choice.
This book had me wiping the tears from my eyes. I knew the story would be a beautiful thing to experience after hearing it was based around the story of Nicholas Winton’s selfless acts in 1938, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how moving and how compelling it was, even as a children’s book. The history surrounding the Holocaust has always interested me, and this book places focus on both Nicky and one girl whose life was about to change in the most enthralling way. The book is written in simple terms for children to read and understand, but also well enough for adults to fully appreciate exactly what Nicholas did for those 669 children and just how he saved their lives.
The characters in this book don’t need lengthy introductions, but what we do learn about them at the start makes us realise exactly how different Nicky and Vera are. We learn of Nicky’s job and just how Vera and her family prepare for what lay ahead for them. Even though, as a reader, we can tell what’s coming, the text is written in a way that is much gentler for a younger audience to read and take in which I found to be both a clever and very important aspect. The book provides such a great basis for discussion and to learn more about what was going on in the world at this time. Such an important issue to discuss and learn about, and we should continue to talk about it for years to come.
“Vera tried not to cry. She and the other children did not know what lay ahead. So they told stories about the lives they left behind.”
The story itself is a work of art, but I also want to discuss the more literal work of art that is the book’s illustrations. They make up such a huge part of the book and each illustration really aids the storytelling. There is simply so much to look at and discuss, and these can easily encourage talking points in home/school settings. Very visually pleasing, something I could have spent hours looking at! When we visit the part of the book when Vera has to leave her parents to live with a foster family, the emotion took over for me, and you can’t help but place yourself in Vera’s shoes. This was so saddening but incredibly effective, and really added to the overall experience of the story.
Peter Sís has perfectly brought Nicky and Vera’s story to life in a way that is incomparable to anything else. The first quote I included in this review was one that stuck with me after reading, and one that will continue to do so. Nicholas Winton was a true hero. A hero who deserves to be spoken about more, taught about in schools and remembered for everything he did. The most heart-wrenching thing about this whole story was just how Nicholas was reunited with some of the people he saved on a TV show in the 80’s. I watched this video after reading the book and it really does make you see the impact of what he did. Something that will be forever etched into my memory.
Reading this book combined with watching the actual video footage of Nicholas Winton being reunited with those whose lives he saved was incredibly powerful and beautifully memorable. Peter Sís has written an absolute masterpiece of a children’s story which should take pride of place on any bookshelf, child or adult, to remind us all what a wonderful person he was. Learning about Nicky and Vera’s lives in this book was as heartwarming as it was upsetting, but we can all take an awful lot of lessons away from his actions. A perfect story with a beautiful message that I’ll most certainly be passing down in generations.
Thank you so much to the author of the book, Peter Sís, and Oliver at Norton Young Readers for my beautiful copy of this book to read and review! You can purchase your own copy of Nicky & Vera over on Amazon available on Kindle and in Hardback.
About the author
Peter Sís is the Czech-born author/illustrator of three Caldecott Honour books, including The Wall, which also won the Sibert Medal. He is the first children’s book illustrator to win the MacArthur Fellowship, and also won the Hans Christian Andersen Award. He lives in Irvington, New York.