Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Greatest Skating Race

I love this book!

It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday again, after taking last week off. The Greatest Skating Race is a book I have read to my kids and recommended to friends many times. It is a wartime adventure story told from the point of view of a very brave boy.

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog feature Perfect Picture Book Fridays. She has compiled a complete list of recommended picture books with links to resources for home and the classroom. It’s awesome!

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Title: The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands

Author/Illustrator: Louise Borden and Niki Daly

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), 2004


Ages: 8-12 years

Theme: World War II, bravery, skating, races, Europe, helping others

Opening: “In December of 1941 I was ten years old . . . and at that time what I cared about most was skating on the frozen canals of Sluis, the town where we lived.

Synopsis: In 1941 Piet, a young Dutch boy from Sluis, gets the assignment of a lifetime: he must skate along the frozen canals of the Netherlands and across the Belgian border to guide two Jewish children to their aunt’s house in Brugge, where the children will remain for the duration of World War II. Their father has been taken by German soldiers, and the children are no longer safe in Sluis — but the journey with Piet, past soldiers and enemies, is fraught with danger.
Along the treacherous path to Belgium the three children skate using every bit of speed, courage, and strength they can muster. All the time they try to appear like innocent schoolchildren simply out for a skate, for if the German soldiers discover their escape plan, the children will be in grave trouble. During the journey Piet thinks about his hero, Pim Mulier — the first person to ever skate the Elfstedentocht, the famous and prestigious Eleven Towns Race that takes place in his country. For years Piet has dreamed of proving that he is a skater as brave and strong as Pim Mulier — but he had never imagined that his test would fall under such dangerous circumstances. (adapted from the jacket flap)

Resources and ideas: PDF with lesson ideas; this book lends itself to most subjects: geography (Europe), history (World War II), math (metric conversions), science (properties of water, weather history), commerce/business, culture, anti-semitism

Review from School Library Journal: Starred Review. Grade 2-5–This slice of historical fiction celebrates the bravery and resourcefulness of children. In the winter of 1941, 10-year-old Piet, a strong skater, is enlisted to lead his two young neighbors from Holland to safety over the ice to relatives in Belgium after their father is arrested for sending messages to the allied forces. The three children leave their home in Sluis and bravely skate 16 kilometers on the canals to Brugge. They outwit and hide from German soldiers and make it to their destination in one long, difficult day. Told with immediacy and suspense from Piet’s point of view, the engaging narrative is arranged in columns, which is an ideal structure to relate the action in short sentences. Readers learn about the Elfstedentocht, a 200-kilometer skating race, and the boy’s hero, skater Pim Mulier. The gorgeously detailed watercolor illustrations capture a sense of the time. The subdued, winter hues of brown and smoky gray are those often found in the oil paintings of Dutch and Flemish masters and match the quiet tone of the text. The book’s format maximizes the drama and expanse of the landscape. Use this picture book to introduce curricular units and to give youngsters a vivid child’s-eye view of the past.–Shawn Brommer, South Central Library System, Madison, WI  (Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.)

What I thought: I was fascinated by the story told in this book. It brings a part of Europe and its history alive. There are innumerable details that bring tremendous realism to the storytelling, with great expression added by the illustrations that show skating postures, worried faces, and historically accurate clothing and skates. I love this one with the tall, graceful grandfather.


from page 21

The book could be shortened a little by skipping over some of the main character Piet’s fantasizing about the Elfstedentocht, if a younger child has trouble getting through the entire text. A highly meaningful adventure!

Check out an informative interview with Louis Borden at the blog Randomly Reading!

Enjoy, and let me know what you and your kids think!

Categories: Books we love, Perfect Picture Book Friday | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Greatest Skating Race

  1. Joanna

    I adore this book. In part because of the courage and characters, but also because I have lived in the Netherlands and know what it is to skate on these canals between towns and villages!

    • Wow…I grew up in Texas and only learned how to ice skate a couple of years ago. The setting of this book is almost like another planet to me. I think that’s why I love the illustration of the grandfather skating. I’ve never seen anyone do that.

  2. I am always drawn to books with the themes of courage and bravery during WWII. The efforts people went to help Jewish kids escape. And, I just happened to spend time with the author Louise Borden at the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference this fall. I am reading another biography she has written about the courage of a man during WWII. She is such a lovely person and I enjoyed chatting with her. She is so passionate about her work.

    • I read her interview and was amazed that she spent so much of her own time and money on Raoul Wallenberg. I admire her for bringing these stories to us.

  3. This seems so familiar, maybe I’m thinking of Hans Brinker. I attracted to such stories, like Patricia. Will definitely be looking for this.

  4. Thank you, Beverley…this is a super review of a book that older kids will definitely enjoy. I want to read it myself.:) I think it is so valuable when history comes alive for kids…this sounds like the perfect book to do that.

  5. This looks really interesting. I like those illustrations. I’ll check this one out. Thanks!

  6. This sounds like a perfect picture book for me! I can’t wait to read it as I have a few pb ideas set in the 40s which I’d like to develop. Thanks.

  7. I love your thoughts about the book, Beverly. I found this book a while ago at our local library, and was fascinated with this little known account. Kudos to you!

    • Thank you! Unfortunately it’s fiction. I thought it was non-fiction until I read Louise Borden’s interview. It seemed very real to me, and perhaps something similar did happen to someone….

  8. This book sounds fantastic, Beverly – very exciting! Thanks so much for sharing. I can’t wait to read it!

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