Helen Bate carefully balances illustrations and text to tell the true story of a 6 year old Jewish boy living in Budapest during World War 2 in her graphic novel, ‘Peter in Peril’.
The narrative broaches the difficult yet important subject of the Holocaust in a way that is accessible for quite young Primary age children. It is not too frightening or overwhelming in its content. The larger implications of being Jewish in 1944/45 are not covered in depth, rather we see the war from Peter’s child’s view – the disruption to his normal life, having to leave toys, walking distances in too small shoes, the separation of his family, being cold, hungry, bored, and afraid –these details build a powerful connection with the young reader and encourage empathy.
It is bleak as it is a true story. Peter and his family suffer greatly but ultimately the ending is happy as the family survive and return to their home – the message that great hardship is survivable is reinforced by the photograph of Peter with his family today. The afterword provides the background to Peter’s story as well as relating the sad fate of Peter’s cousin and companion Eva’s relatives. Again, this information is given relatively gently but allows the discussion for those children who are ready to have it.
The tag line for ‘Peter in Peril’ is ‘Courage and Hope in World War Two’ and the story is definitely Peters; however, this book could be used to discuss the plight of any child who finds themselves, because of their faith or ethnicity, the victim of persecution. This is especially pertinent today – empathy for the refugee is a lesson no-one is too young to learn and Helen Bate’s book is the perfect introduction to discussing the Amnesty International endorsement it carries- ‘We all have the right to life and to live in freedom and safety’.
Peter in Peril by Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books ISBN 978-1-91095-957-2