Review of Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued
by Peter Sís; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Norton    64 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-324-01574-1    $19.95
e-book ed.  978-1-324-01575-8    $17.48

At the end of 1938, when the Germans invaded the border region of Czechoslovakia, a young Englishman named Nicky arranged for the transport of 669 children from there to England, where they were settled with families to live out the war. In this remarkable book, Sís weaves Nicky’s story with that of Vera, a Czech child who was one of those Nicky saved. The story does not end with the transport but includes the post-war years as Vera returns to Czechoslovakia in search of her parents and cousins (none survived) and returns to England for good; and as Nicky’s quiet, productive life unfolds. Sís tells this multi-stranded tale in prose that is as understated as Nicholas Winton (as Nicky is eventually identified in the back matter) was himself and in illustrations that capture the complexity and heartbreaking emotion of the tale. For example, Vera kept a diary during the war, and Sís illustrates the years during which Vera lived with her foster family against a grid of diary pages; small squares include drawings such as a child with a violin, fish and chips, and a radio, all representing her years growing up in England. On subsequent pages, text overlays more journal pages, these covered with minuscule handwriting as time passes and Vera searches for family. In a final spread, when an elderly Nicholas Winton is publicly recognized for his quiet heroism and introduced to the adults he saved as children, each adult faces a seated Winton, and, inside each outline, Sís has drawn the child they were when they left Czechoslovakia. This is an exceptional story told with a powerful combination of words and pictures to engage both those who know some history of the Holocaust and those new to the topic. An appended note tells more about Nicholas Winton and Vera Diamantova.

From the May/June 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Maeve Visser Knoth

Maeve Visser Knoth is a librarian at Phillips Brooks School, Menlo Park, ­California. She has chaired the Notable Children’s Books Committee and taught at Notre Dame de Namur University and Lesley University.

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