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The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands [Hardcover]

Louise Borden , Niki Daly
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands + The Little Ships: A Story of the Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 44 pages
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (28 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0689845022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689845024
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 28.8 x 1.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 956,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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The Greatest Skating Race In 1941, Piet, a young Dutch boy, is assigned to skate along the frozen canals of the Netherlands across the Belgian border to guide two children to their aunt's house in Brugge. They must be careful, for if the Germans discover their escape plan, the children will be in grave danger. Full color. Full description

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First Sentence
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. Read the first page
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable story of a quiet hero. 7 Dec 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
'The Greatest Skating Race' is another WW II era story written by Louise Borden, the author of 'The Little Ships: A Story of the Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk '. I chose this book because I loved the Little Ships' so much. She has written a number of non fiction books for children as well as very realistic historical fiction. This book is fiction, but is very believable, so believable in fact that I looked up the main character's name, just in case he was a real person. It gives us a glimpse into what childhood in the Netherlands under German occupation might have been like.

This story has an unlikely hero, a wee boy of only 10, Piet Janssen. The year is 1941, and the Netherlands are occupied by Germany, but a child's life does not change so very much. Piet's father is away in England with other allied troops, and the family skate shop has little business. They do not make many new pairs of skates, instead they mend old ones, and old shoes as well. It appears Britain is not the only country that had to make do and mend in these years. There is little for Christmas, Piet's mother can only give him one gift, a small red leather bound noteebook, but Piet loves this gift as it reminds him of his hero, Pim Mulier and the Elfstedentocht, a skating race. Piet traces maps and the original route of the Elfstentocht into his little book and dreams of being a great skater, like his hero.

Piet will have his chance to become a hero and prove his bravery on the silver blades sooner than he thinks, but not in the great race. Instead Piet will be asked to take two younger children across the border into Belgium after there Father is arrested for espionage. He must travel 16 kilometres in bitter cold, past German sentries with two small children.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A World War II treasure 17 Nov 2004
By LonestarReader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Louise Borden has added another little known story to her collection of historical fiction. In the year 1941, Holland has been under Nazi control for a year. Ten year old Piet dreams of following in the footsteps of his hero, Piiim Mulier the skater who first achieved Elfstedentocht, the Eleven Towns Race.

When a family friend is taken into German custody Piet's grandfather asks the boy to take the threatened family's children, down the frozen canals, to safety across the border to Brugge, Belguim. They are hoping three children skating down the canals will not attact the attention of the German troops. The journey becomes Piet's Elfstedentocht. The cold, the exhaustion, the fear and the natural exuberance of the children are beautifully shared in this story.

Niki Daly's illustrations have an old fashioned feel. Daly has caught the feeling of the Dutch winter sky and the era with muted colors.

Interesting notes on the Elfstedentocht are included along with pronounciations of the Dutch words. Another wonderful book about Holland during WWII is "Forging Freedom" by Hudson Talbott. These two titles would work well together.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Skating just as fast as we can 6 May 2005
By E. R. Bird - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Parents often find themselves amazed at the sheer number of WWII picture books available to kids today. Why the year 2004 alone was privy to such fabulous tomes as, "The Cats of Krasinski Square", by Karen Hesse and "The Greatest Skating Race", by Louise Borden. Usually such picture books are examinations of the Holocaust and/or Jewish oppression. Borden's book, however, takes an entirely different route. Concentrating on the German occupation in the Netherlands, the book shows how resistance and bravery can flower in children when the need is great enough. Though this book is far too lengthy and involved to seriously interest any child under the age of eight, I'd still recommend it to those tykes that can maintain their interest through a riveting race against time.

Piet (pronounced "pete") has a single burning obsession that has yet to be thoroughly quenched. He loves to skate. This is not particularly peculiar in the Netherlands, of course. After all, he comes from a long line of skate artisans and often he traverses the many canals that run through his town. But Piet's real hope is to someday compete in the difficult Elfstedentocht race held in Friesland when the winters are cold enough. Piet's hero, Pim Mulier, once completed the 200 kilometer (roughly 125 mile) course in just 12 hours and 55 minutes and Piet's raring to do the same. But it's the second winter into WWII and the Netherlands are under German occupation. What's worse, a father of two kids in Piet's school was recently arrested by the Germans for passing on information to the British. This places the man's children in dire peril and their only hope is to somehow escape over the border to Belgium and then into the town of Brugge to safety. But how could two such children be able to find their way? That's where Piet comes in. With his trusty red notebook in hand, Piet and the kids must escape and elude the Germans and make it to their safehouse in the course of a single day over 12 kilometers. If they're strong enough.

Though looking like a picture book, this is an in-depth read more appropriate for kids reading early chapter titles. In the course of the narrative, author Louise Borden spots the text with factual information in the form of maps, pronunciation guides (very useful when you have words like, "Elfstedentocht" to contend with), and info on the great Friesland race as well as a history of skating itself. It's enough to make your head spin. And then, to top it all off, there's the story. Borden cleverly sucks you into the action. It did strike me as a little odd that in this book the adults would place Piet in such danger when a grown-up probably could've have helped the two children instead. Then again, maybe they figured that kids would attract less attention. Whatever the reason, Piet's journey is realistic. He comes up with an ingenious way to keep the seven-year-old from tiring too much and also for keeping the children's spirits up. After reading the book, you may never want to skate yourself but you're happy watching others do it here.

The illustrations by Niki Daly are nicely detailed as watercolors go but the real hero here is the text. Kids who like that classic piece of children's literature, "Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates" by Patricia Lauber will find a similar tale in "The Greatest Skating Race". Purchase only for those advanced readers that won't be turned off by a little historical fiction. A great WWII picture book for a select audience.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a fantastic, informative book!!! 2 Jan 2008
By Kiki B. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My 4-year-old son picked this book out at the library (I think he was attracted by the cover picture of children ice skating, a hobby he too enjoys). When I read it to him at home, I was surprised at how engaging it was for me, being that it is a book written for a younger audience. The author certainly researched her subject matter. My son and I both learned a great deal about the Netherlands in the early 1940s, and the history of ice skating. The Elfstedentocht, the speed skating race in the northern province of Friesland, I had never heard of before reading this book. Maybe one day my son will travel to the land of his ancestors and compete in this race! This excellent book could certainly inspire an interest in a venture of that nature. I certainly would recommend this book, both for its content, and the captivating artwork.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Skating Race 6 Aug 2011
By Jitske M Bergman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Ever since I read that nonsensical children's book "Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates" by Mary Mapes Dodge, I am very leary of US authors writing historical novels about other countries; I don't even bother to open them.
This book is, on the other hand, is wonderful!
I have three relatives who rode the Elfstedentocht. Because I inherited the Elfstedentocht medals ("kruisjes") of my aunt's 3 tours and one from my grandmother, I find myself often explaining the uniqueness, severity and hardship (my aunt lost her front teeths; my grandmother froze her toes in 1909)of this race to my English speaking grandchildren, I ordered this book.
In addition to writing a nice story to go along with facts, Louise Borden has done an outstanding job of reviewing this incredible race and explaining the Dutch obssession with speed skating. This winter (2010-2011) we almost had another Elfstentocht. It was not to be. Hopefully next winter, or, as they say in Friesland "It sil heve!" (It shall happen!).
Jitske Bergman
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book 6 May 2010
By J. Park - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was a beautiful book. Compelling, full of history and emotion. The way the author showed how celebrities and ordinary folk alike have extraordinary strength was masterful. The young boy Piet is inspired to have great courage by stories of Pim Mulier, the famous skater of the Elfstedentocht (Eleven Towns Race). I would compare this to Lois Lowry's Number the Stars, which is for older children certainly, but also about young people being much braver than they thought they could be while caught up in the tragedy of World War II.
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