In every armed conflict, innocent bystanders suffer the most – generally women, children, and the elderly. Military leaders have often made the mistake of considering these innocents as helpless, but history has proven time and again that anyone has the ability to fight back if they have the drive, conviction, and courage. It doesn’t take a certain type to be a hero – you don’t have to be a leader of men, or some warrior of incredible strength – and that is what the teenagers and school kids of Lore Cowan’s Children of the Resistance proved during one of the world’s worst conflicts ever yet seen.
Throughout World War II the major powers fought back and forth across vast tracts of land, which often included small countries such as Denmark, Belgium, and other such places that simply didn’t have the resources to fight back against their occupiers. In many of these areas, resistance movements and partisan armies sprang up to fight back against the occupying armies through small acts of espionage, sabotage, and concealment. Through underground networks, they managed to interrupt supply lines and return crashed pilots safely from the depths of enemy territory. What a lot of people don’t realize, and history seldom recognizes, is that children formed an essential part of this resistance in many areas. This book tells their stories.
Children of the Resistance is a collection of short stories aimed at teenagers; as author Lore Cowan mentions in the introduction, he was inspired to collect the stories and write this book in a fiction format by students of his who wanted to know if kids made a contribution during this war. This is a great book for any age about preteen on up (there’s plenty for adults to really get into here too!), and can really be inspiring to those who have been told that they’re too young to help. Every story is based on real people, and each is presented in a clear, easy-to-read style.
Many of the children depicted were exactly the ones that would be considered the most helpless – including the orphaned and the “handicapped.” The very first story discusses a mute boy who, because of his inability to talk, was considered stupid and inconsequential by the soldiers in his village and the many adults that might have turned over anyone who was not cooperating with the occupiers. He managed to save the lives of many British pilots simply because the adults looked right through him, because what could he possibly do?
The primary reason that the book is recommended for preteens is that there is – not surprisingly – quite a bit of violence. Though the author does not make it graphic violence, there’s just no nice way to describe someone’s entire family being marched out of their house by enemy troops and gunned down. Another point is that not all of the children whose stories are told here survived. Even as an adult reader, this book can be shocking at times and certainly quite emotional at others.
One of the best points about most books aimed at juvenile and young adult readers, including this one, is that the writing tends to be a lot cleaner and clearer than the average novel geared toward adults. It’s all about telling a story, not finding pretty ways to phrase it. This book comes in at less than 300 pages, yet the rich content and value stuffed into those pages is exceptional.
Overall, this book is excellent for young readers that are learning about World War II, or simply those that need real examples of the big differences that young people can make. These kids didn’t set out to be heroes, they weren’t trying to act out some grandiose fantasies, they just wanted to help their countries and knew there must be a way to do it. The ideal readership for this book is, by no means, only young adults – it is an excellent book that has met with quite a bit of obscurity over the nearly 40 years since it was published, but it truly is a hidden gem that’s well worth the read.