Twenty and Ten is inspired by a true story, written by Claire Huchet Bishop as told by Janet Joly. It is an inspiring story that I would love to read to our kids. Twenty and Ten is a short book, only five chapters long. It is set during World War II in Nazi-occupied France. Written from the perspective of an 11-year-old girl, it tells the story of twenty schoolchildren that creatively hide ten Jewish children from the Nazis. It is written from a Christian perspective (Catholic, specifically).
Parents should be aware that, considering the context, this book has some very scary moments when the children are afraid of being shot by Nazi soldiers. The children also mention many times how very hungry they are all the time.
The message of this book is that sacrificing for others blesses you, and that even children can stand up for what is right.
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My Mom-Meter gives Twenty and Ten an overall safety rating of 1 (Safe) for ages 8 and up.
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Twenty and Ten (affiliate link) is written from a thirteen year old girl’s perspective. Her name is Janet, and she is writing about events that happened when she was eleven, during World War II in occupied France. All of the children in her village had been divided by grade and sent to different places in the country. The twenty fifth graders in Janet’s particular village had been sent to a beautiful old house on the top of a mountain. They lived there with one of the children’s little brother, Louis, and a nun called Sister Gabriel. The story begins when the children are playing, and decide to act out the story of the Holy Family’s Flight to Egypt. There is an argument about why the Egyptians would take the Holy Family in when they didn’t have money, and it ends in a big fight on the playground. Sister Gabriel breaks up the fight and asks them to come inside to hear something. Inside, there is a young man who asks the children if they would be willing to help hide ten Jewish children whose parents are dead. He tells Janet and her classmates that they must never betray the Jewish children, no matter what. He also tells Sister Gabriel that she could be shot if the Nazis discover that she is hiding those children. Sister Gabriel and the children agree to hide the Jewish children. (For the rest of this summary, I will prefer to the two groups as the Jewish children and French schoolchildren. The Jewish children were probably French too, but it’s easier for me to refer to the two groups this way)
At lunch that day, the French schoolchildren realize that the Jewish children do not have ration cards, and so they will be stretching their already meager food supplies to feed 10 more children. Sister Gabriel tells the children, “From now on the slogan is: We all eat, or nobody eats.” Henry, one of the French schoolchildren only eats ten bites of soup before offering the rest to Arthur, one of the Jewish children. Henry lies and says that he doesn’t like the soup. Arthur takes the soup, and in return he slips Henry a piece of chocolate a woman had given Arthur. Chocolate was such a rarity, it was like gold to the children. Henry and Janet both have a small taste before hiding it under a rock in the woods. The hiding place was discovered, however, and when Henry and Janet take Arthur out there to all share a taste of chocolate, the chocolate is gone. The three children soon find that it was Denise who had followed Henry and Janet and seen where the chocolate was hidden. She had just wanted one taste. While the children were chasing Denise, she fell into a hidden cave that was large but hard to spot. The four children decide to keep the cave a secret, and shared the chocolate together.
The next day, there is almost a fight at lunch because the Jewish children wanted to share their food while the French schoolchildren wanted to share their food. Sister Gabriel intervenes and tells them no sharing, they must eat what is in front of them. Another boy, Philip, doesn’t like that idea, and he proposes that the children all take turns where everyone gives a spoonful of soup to one person, so that person has a full bowl of soup. The next day, everyone would give a spoonful to another person, and so on, until everyone had enjoyed a full bowl of soup. Before the children are able to present this plan to Sister Gabriel, she announces that she has to go to the nearby village and get the mail (and hopefully packets of food from families). The children must be left by themselves for the afternoon, but if she left at 1:30, she would be back by 5. She leaves them 30 slices of bread and 30 apples (apples were a treat) to have a picnic with. Instead of waiting for the right time to eat, the children eat it all up as soon as she is gone. The children then begin to play The Flight to Egypt again, when one of the Jewish girls sees the Nazis coming up the mountain. Arthur quickly takes the Jewish children to the cave Denise had discovered, and the other children decide that they will not answer the soldiers. This makes the soldiers angry. The Nazis search the house and cannot find any evidence of the Jewish children. Then, one of the soldiers takes Henry away to question him, and the rest of the children wait silently with another soldier. It gets dark outside before the first Nazi comes back to say that Henry had said nothing. All of the children started crying, and the Nazi soldiers send the children to bed without supper, and the children cry themselves to sleep.
That night, Janet is awakened by Henry. He tells her that the Nazi soldier had shaken him and threatened to “thrash” Henry if he didn’t tell where the Jewish children were. Henry was locked in the coal shed, and used his Scout knife to break out. Henry tells Janet that the Nazis are sleeping and that the children need to take food and blankets to the cave where the Jewish children were hiding. Henry can’t go because he is supposed to be locked in the coal shed, so Janet has to show Philip the way to the cave. When the water, bread, and blankets are delivered, the Jewish children agree not to move until they hear from the French children again, Philip sneaks back into the house easily, but Janet accidentally crashes into the wall when she runs back to the house. It awakens the Nazis, and she pretends that she had come out to go to the bathroom. The Nazis let her go to the outhouse, and she stays in there a while before finally getting back to bed.
The next day, the Nazis leave. The children begin to celebrate when Henry reminds them that it is probably a trick. They do not dare go to the cave or even look that direction all day. They pretend to play games in the yard, and are surprised by the Nazi soldiers’ return. The Nazis offer the children treats of chocolate bars, colored candy, and oranges if they will tell the soldiers where the Jewish children were hiding. Denise’s little brother, Louis, is too young to know better. He gets excited about the oranges, and the Nazis ask him if he has any Jewish friends. Louis says yes, and he points to Janet and George (the two children that had played Mary and Joseph) and himself (who had been baby Jesus). The Nazis do not understand, and all the children begin laughing. The Nazis fire a gun in the air to get the children’s attention, and the commanding officer appears with Sister Gabriel. Sister Gabriel quickly explains that Janet, George, and Louis were only playing the Holy Family and were not really Jews. The Nazi officer who had been dealing with the children is embarrassed and sent away to the front.
The Nazis all leave together, and the children tell Sister Gabriel their story, and they learn that she had been arrested and questioned. The Nazis had told her that the children had been caught, and they brought her up to the house to show her the truck they were loading the Jewish children in. Of course, the Nazis had been bluffing, and everyone is safe and sound. From then on, the Jewish children slept in the cave at night, just in case. At the very end of the book, as the children are all so very hungry, they decide to play at the story of “the multiplication of loaves and fishes.” Right as they start acting out that story, Louis calls their attention to the box of chocolate bars and oranges that the Nazis had left in their haste.
- Philip says “What’s the fuss about? They look just like us. Nazis are crazy!” You might want to talk with your kids about the Holocaust and why Hitler wanted to kill the Jews. The book makes a parallel between Herod wanting to kill baby Jesus and Hitler killing the Jews. You might want to talk about that with your kids as well.
- The children are all trying to share their food, but they are all very hungry. Sister Gabriel says “We all eat, or nobody eats.” You might want to explain what “ration cards” were during World War II, why there was a food shortage, and how kind the children were to share their small meals – and how wonderful chocolate or oranges would be to those children then.
- Janet and Philip (and Henry) took their lives in their hands to take the Jewish children food and blankets. You might want to talk with your child about what they would do in this situation.
- The Nazis offer chocolate bars, colored candy, and oranges to the French schoolchildren if they will reveal where the Jewish children are hiding. You might want to talk with your child about what a temptation that would be.
- A Nazi soldier smokes a pipe a few times. It is also pictured on the illustration on the front cover of our copy of the book.
- The outhouse is called “the john.”
- “Gay” is used in the old-fashioned sense of the word, as in merry or happy.
- Definition: The acronym “DPs” is used once, which stands for “displaced person.”
- “Stupid” is used once sarcastically. “I guess I’m just stupid.”
- Nazis call the children “nasty brats.”
- Janet is described by the Nazis as looking like an “idiot” and “stupid,” as in mentally retarded.
- One of the soldiers is chided that he made a fool of himself. “A fool!”
Potentially Offensive Behavior:
- There is an argument over whether Mary was “fair” or “dark.” A boy steps in and says “George is right, and Janet is right too, because sometimes Mary is dark, and sometimes she is fair. Mary can be French, Spanish, Russian, Negro, Indian, Chinese, anything, anything at all.”
- There are very mild hints that two girls like the same boy.
- A Nazi soldier tells the children that he knows how to make them talk.
- The Nazis pretend to leave and sneak back to spy on the children.
- The Nazis offer chocolate, colored candy, and oranges if the children told them where the Jewish children are hiding.
- The children act out the story of the “Holy Family” and their “Flight into Egypt.” The children talk about how Herod wants to kill baby Jesus.
- The children start fighting each other over the story of the Flight into Egypt.
- The children are told that if the Nazis find Jews, they will kill them.
- Sister Gabriel is told that she can be shot for hiding the Jewish children.
- A Nazi soldier shook Henry “like a plum tree” and told him “I’m going to thrash you within an inch of your life and then we will see if you can’t find your tongue!”
- Henry mentions that he has a Scout Knife.
- When Janet runs into the wall, a Nazi shouts “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
- One of the Nazis shoots a gun in the air to get everyone’s attention.
From a ten-year-old’s perspective: “Twenty and Ten was enjoyable. It was frightening, always wondering if the children were going to get caught. The Nazis were intimidating, but the kindness of the children brought hope. Overall, I think it’s a good, quick read.”
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