IMPORTANT BACKGROUND INFO:
Hunger Winter is a World War Two novel set in the Netherlands. It’s written by Dr. Rob Currie, a professor of psychology at a local private university. It’s a story about a boy who has family working with the Dutch Resistance to the Nazis. His father is on the run – hiding from the Nazis, and his older sister Els has been captured so the Gestapo can try to get information from her. Dirk has to take his 6 year old sister Anna and flee. The story follows them as they try to find safety and stay out of the clutches of the Nazis.
I originally read Hunger Winter at the instance of my younger brother, because he really enjoyed it. I met the author at the 2023 ICHE conference, and decided to review the story. Fun Fact: Dr. Rob Currie is now my psychology professor.
Hunger Winter is incredibly action-packed. It’s a good introductory novel.
WHAT I LIKED:
There are a lot of threads criss-crossing throughout the story. They were all tied up pretty satisfactorily in the end, though a few of the threads felt forced and didn’t flow as smoothly as they might have.
The main character, Dirk, is a kid that other kids should want to emulate. He’s respectful, brave and mature, and cares for his little sister well.
A neat thing about the story is that at the beginning of several chapters, there is a map showing where in the Netherlands the characters are. So that’s kind of fun. There’s also some author Q&A in the back of the book, and a timeline of WW2 in the Netherlands.
CONTENT CONCERNS/THINGS TO KNOW:
Please note that I read laser focused on looking for content concerns so that I can write this review. It’s going to seem like there are a lot, but often they’re incredibly easy to gloss over or miss, and they’re not as concerning within the context of the story.
Dirk and his family have a general belief in God. They pray often. A phrase they like to repeat is “keep your hope strong and your prayers stronger.” Dirk works through a bit of anger with God for the circumstances he’s in.
Dirk has a couple of dreams that seem to convey messages of danger or warning.
There are a lot of perilous situations, sometimes with bullets flying. The author does a good job keeping it age-appropriate for elementary students, though. It feels the same way the violence in Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys – lots of threats of something worse, but they’re never actually going to get hurt.
A couple specific things to highlight is that El’s is burned once by the Gestapo, and she faces a firing squad (though at the last second, they don’t shoot). We’re told someone died from the Gestapo’s torture.
It’s inferred pretty clearly that someone stole Tante Cora’s dog for food. The climax of the story involves a fight between an evil Nazi, Dirk, and Dirk’s papa.
All of this fits with what I wrote in the first paragraph, though.
One scene that might be a bit disturbing for younger readers is when Dirk and Anna come across woman who has died from hunger. It’s not graphic, but still might disturb some people.
Someone calls the cold, dark and hunger the ‘unholy trinity.’
Other Things to Know:
We’re told that El started in the resistance by stealing pieces of chalk from school and drawing the resistance symbol on buildings around town when she was 13. She misleads the Nazi’s by giving them the wrong name.
Dirk and Anna’s mom passed away before the story begins, but it’s still very prevalent. Dirk struggles with feelings of guilt because he didn’t check on his mom the night she died.
Hunger Winter is a good introductory WW2 novel. It’s action packed and clean, and a good option for students to learn more about WW2. I actually think it might make it more relatable for students, because it’s written in a very personable style. I think the age range that will enjoy it the best is late elementary school – most of middle school.
Would you be as brave as Dirk?
Do you have any items that hold meaning to you, like Anna’s ribbon or Dirk’s or El’s stones?
El’s lies to the Nazis to prevent them from gathering information. She also steals chalk to show resistance to them. Is there ever a time when it would be morally right to do these things? Think of Bible stories and scripture when you answer.
Have you ever been upset with God for something? What was it? Have you been able to resolve it?
Have you ever stood up for what was right like Els and Dirk, and their Papa? What happened?
Do you have any family sayings like Dirk’s family does?
What does “keep your hope strong and your prayers stronger” mean?
Why do you think Colonel Fleischer felt he had to help Dirk and Anna? Do you think he was good or bad?
Did it surprise you when the second interrogators were nice to Els?
Why do you think some of the Dutch people helped the Nazis? Do you think you would be brave enough to stand up against them?
Dirk’s Oma says that a good way to lift your spirits is to help someone . Have you ever experienced this?
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Taken from the author’s website, which you can find here.
“The setting is 1944 in the Netherlands. Dirk’s father left to fight the Nazis. Then Dirk’s mother passed away. When the Gestapo snatched his older sister, thirteen-year-old Dirk had to flee his home in the middle of the night. He left with his pockets stuffed with food, his little sister asleep in his arms, and his heart heavy with a dark secret. His challenge was to stay one step ahead of the Nazis, lead his little sister to safety, and find their father.”