Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review: The Winged Watchman

The Winged Watchman, by Hilda van Stockum, 1962.  Juvenile Historical Fiction.

Not long ago a friend who teaches grade school tipped me off to a grand book, called 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up.  I've been happily browsing the sections for kids about age 8 and up (juvvy fiction, not picture books or easy-readers; this is the stuff I like).  Not surprisingly, especially given how small our library was when I was actually a child, I've missed a lot of the books (even the ones that were written before I allegedly grew up, and many post-date my gradeschool years, which were a lot longer ago than I think).

The Winged Watchman is one of those I missed along the way.  Set in Holland during WWII, it is the story of the Verhagen family, who live in and tend a windmill--the Winged Watchman.  As a note, it was a bit before I processed the obvious (well, maybe not!) fact that these windmills were not for grinding flour or to pump up water (as windmills in the American West are), but to pump the water out of the polders, the stretches of farmland that lie below sea level.

So there was a fair bit of history and lore to learn, but never to the detriment of the story.  And the story is that of the Dutch Resistance, of everyday people who did what needed doing to save a downed aviator or hide a Resistance fighter or a Jewish child, working against the German occupiers without letting on that they were.

The Verhagens are just such people.  Not giant heroes, but little ones, people who shared what they had, and took their chances with the Germans.  We follow them through the last year of the war, when things are at their worst, and their most exciting.  Events move along at a brisk clip, keeping the reader engaged, with just enough tension to make it exciting.  The story is told from the perspective  of the two sons of the family, primarily Joris, who is 10, but also Dirk Jan who at 14 plays a more active and dangerous role.

And how is it to read?  Being written in 1962, certain aspects of the book are dated, though the language and style are modern enough (though I suspect a writer tackling the scene in 2012 would make life and death seem more real to the reader).  I hit a couple of brief rough patches where religious sentiments were presented in a manner that felt somewhat preachy, but they quickly passed, and the overall tone was acceptable to people of any or no faith.  That sense was a bit dampened by the ending, where the author makes it clear she believes that religion--Christian or otherwise--is a powerful support in difficult times, as it undoubtedly is for those who believe.  To me, it made the ending feel a little preachy, not in keeping with the adventure story, but it by no means ruined the book.

I am not sure that, aside from the historical context, I would consider this a "must read," but The Winged Watchman was a worthwhile read, and kept my attention from start to end with no desire to wander off.  Three and a half stars.


  1. Hey Rebecca...thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm only a couple of months into the blogging scene; figured I had to set up something as a writer, so I'm just feeling my way through it. I'm trying to expand beyond the "in crowd" and so am quite glad that you gave a visit. Thanks for coming and please, come again!


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