Title: The British Escape
By Leah Sokol
The British Escape, by Leah Sokol, begins in London in the 1940’s. Told in the second person, “you”, the main character, recently immigrated from Germany to London, leaving your parents behind, in order to escape the Nazis. You are sitting in your classroom during the day when an announcement is made that tomorrow, everyone will evacuate to the countryside; Germany is getting ready to attack England. But you can’t find your little sister anywhere. As you choose your own adventure story, you must make your first of many choices – do you wait for the other children to leave the classroom or do you look for your sister outside?
You continue to face multiple choices throughout the book; these choices depend on what pathways you take. Some of the pathways and choices include; in the countryside, which host do you go with? If you go with one couple in which the wife is upset that her husband took you and your sister with you, do you stay or tell the host that you will request a different home? In another host home, the host spent a lot of time preparing delicious meals for you and the other children staying by her. You politely decline because the food is not kosher, upsetting the host. To try to appease her, do you offer to clean up or leave immediately to go to school? If you missed the train to the countryside, do you go with a generous woman who invites you to stay at her home or do you go back to Rabbi Schonfeld’s empty house?
This choose your own adventure story is historical fiction and includes real historical figures. Rabbi Dr. Solomon Schonfeld saved more than 3,700 Jewish children during the Holocaust by arranging for them to come to England. Dr. Judith Grunfeld, a pioneer in bringing Bais Yaakov schools to England. Dr. Grunfeld assumed responsibility for the care and safety of the children who fled war torn Europe; she placed children with host families in the countryside.
Targeting late elementary school, this book is a great way to learn about history in such a way that can’t be learned from a textbook. Stories that you may not read in a textbook include:
- Rabbi Schonfeld drove two distressed children in the middle of the night to calm them down.
- Dr. Grunfeld clarified to the villagers the misconception about Jews having horns, and expounded to them why the children would not eat the treif food cooked in their homes.
This book also gives the reader a “taste” for what it is like to leave your parents behind at a very young age in order to escape a war – an experience that one can’t get from a textbook. The night before the trek to the countryside, as you, the reader, are trying to fall asleep, thoughts go through your head: “What would your parents think if they knew you were going to live with a non-Jewish family they’d never met, whose language they don’t even speak? But of course, if things were normal, your parents would be with you. Nothing is normal now, and everyone is doing things they would never have even considered just a few years ago.”
This is a book worth trying out with a kid who is a “non-reader.” As an active participant, the reader has agency in how he or she wants to tell this story. It can also be used as a classroom supplement for teaching this aspect of WW II history.