Hilda van Stockum’s ‘The Winged Watchman’

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Hilda van Stockum is one of my favourite children’s authors. If you haven’t read any of her books, The Winged Watchman would be a great place to start. Set in the Netherlands during World War II, it is an exciting adventure story about betrayal, resistance and eventual triumph.

The family at the centre of the book lives in a windmill – the Winged Watchman of the title – which pumps water from the surrounding polder. The rising tide of water is matched by the rising tide of Nazi oppression that also threatens to overwhelm them, especially when they begin to shelter downed airmen and members of the Dutch resistance in their family home.

As you can see from the illustration on the front cover, there are some dramatic moments in the story because Hilda van Stockum certainly knew how to construct a good plot. She also had a real knack for depicting the realities of family life without ever becoming cynical or despairing. In fact, what is most heartening about this book is the way it depicts the humanity of people under pressure. It doesn’t shy away from the reality of war but neither does it draw attention to it in a gratuitous manner. This is a book that takes its duty to its child readers seriously. It is a novel that parents can happily hand over to their children.

I am currently reading Five for Victory with one of my children as a bedtime story, which deals with the war in a quite different way, so I’ll post about that book when we get to the end.

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