Willy and Max: A Holocaust Story

Amy Littlesugar, Author, William Low, Illustrator Philomel Books $15.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-399-23483-5
Low's (Henry and the Kite Dragon) mastery of texture, color and light buoys this awkwardly told tale of loss and reconciliation. The title characters are two boys-gentile and Jewish, respectively-whose friendship is born when Max's father buys a portrait of a lady at an Antwerp antique store owned by Willy's father. When the Nazis invade and Max's family must flee, Willy's family agrees to hide The Lady. But the Nazis confiscate the painting (hidden within an angel statue), and it doesn't emerge again for 60 years. Willy, now a grandfather living in America, can finally restore the portrait to Max's son at a Shabbos dinner. Low's perspectives imbue the story with a cinematic immediacy and tension: in one spread, an aerial view depicts the boys sailing boats at an idyllic pond; later, readers look up from an ant's eye-view at a Nazi tank rolling down Antwerp's cobblestone streets. But when the story suddenly jumps from WWII to the present day, an important chunk of its narrative arc feels ripped away. Littlesugar (Shake Rag) unwinds the tale through the eyes of one of Will's grandchildren (""The faraway war wasn't far away anymore!"" goes a typical passage), but the conceit is never convincing, and the climax unfortunately feels wooden and excessively literal (""There was a handshake,"" she writes of Willy's reunion with Max's family. ""Then a hug. And tears. Lots of tears!""). Ages 5-up.
Reviewed on: 04/03/2006
Release date: 04/01/2006
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