When the Soldiers Were Gone by Vera W. Propp;
G. P. Putnam’s Sons: New York, 1999; $14.99
When I first saw the book When the Soldiers Were Gone by Vera W. Propp, it sounded boring. Then as I started reading it, it was sad and fun to read and soon I couldn’t stop. Henk (the main character) is friendly, kind, and also very brave. During World War II, Henk, who was Jewish, had to go live with his parents’ friends so he would be safe with Christians. He thought the Christians were his real parents and forgot his real mom and dad. If I found out my parents weren’t actually my parents, I wouldn’t be nearly as brave as him. His real parents named him Benjamin.
Another character is his real mom, Elsbet. I felt bad for her because she had to give her son away. Then, for him not to remember her is heartbreaking. In the end, at least, he ends up remembering her.
There’s a mean character named Max. He is in Benjamin’s class. He hates Jews. He’s racist and cruel. On the first day of school, he was going to trip a kid, but Ben caught the eye of the kid. Ben looked at the floor and so did the kid and he wasn’t tripped. The kid who was almost tripped is Jop. He became Benjamin’s friend.
One scene with Max and Benjamin happened after school when Benjamin was walking home. He was finally getting adjusted with his school and his real family. He was finally fitting in and he was happy, which made me happy. Then what made me feel sympathetic for Ben and upset was when Benjamin was walking happily when Max put his arm up. Benjamin thought he was going to wave so he started to wave, but instead Max threw a rock at his forehead and he was bleeding. That’s one reason why I really don’t like Max.
One time in my life, something happened like this. It was in school. My friend was standing in line to go somewhere. She was humming a song that another girl didn’t like. The girl said “I hate that song. Why are you humming it?” “I’m allowed to hum it if I want to,” my friend said. “Is that so, white girl,” the girl said meanly.
Another scene in the story made me excited and happy until . . . Benjamin was walking home from playing in the park with friends. He saw a farm cart go by and knew that his papa (who wasn’t really his real father) was in it. Then he started chasing the farm cart down blocks and up streets. He finally caught up to it. It turned out it was a different person. He was lost, to make matters worse. It makes me feel really awful but makes the book interesting. It’s like you’re playing on a Little League team and your team’s undefeated. Then you lose your last game. It turns something good into something bad, which is sad.
The book was sad, but fun and exciting to read. There are good characters and mean characters. I had to stop to watch TV. I wanted to keep reading. That’s why I think kids will really like this book.