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Magical bedtime reading – The Silver Sword

Last night I finished reading The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier to my 10-year-old. What a book! Why does it appear to have been forgotten? We took it out from our local library and I was rather surprised that they had a copy. However, I suspect it had not been taken out for a long time as the bar code didn’t work and the librarian had to make a new one. The edition we read contained lovely drawings by C. Walter Hodges.

Published in 1956, The Silver Sword, if you don’t know, is a children’s novel set in World War II. In concerns the children of a Polish family from Warsaw. For one reason or another, the parents are separated from the children who have to survive in the ruins of the city under German occupation. The Russians take over the city and the children begin their quest to find their parents.

Considering the sensitive nature of the background to the plot, the story is told in a gentle fashion but you are left in no doubt that the children are going through extreme hardships. The author illustrates the bitterness of the Poles and yet still manages to show that not all Germans are Nazis, and that there is much sadness on the German side too after so much death and destruction. It portrays the life of refugees with much tenderness.

The children ‘adopt’ a parentless, homeless child prone to stealing. The reaction of this child, Jan, at the conclusion of the book is amazing.

Serraillier (1912-1994) is no longer with us. During World War II, he was a conscientious objector and he began writing children’s books just after the conclusion of the war. He also helped to found the New Windmill Series, published by Heinemann, which includes some excellent reads. In the United States, The Silver Sword as published as Escape from Warsaw.

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