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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
What About Me?
by Gertie Evenhuis
Age Range: 9-11
Set in 1943, almost twelve-year-old Dirk Waterman lives in the nightmare world of German-occupied Amsterdam. Dirk sees change happening all around him; the hardship caused by the Nazi occupation and the sabotage attempts by the Resistance. He suspects his scornful fifteen-year-old brother Sebastian of being involved with the Resistance as he keeps ‘illegal’ newspapers and posters in this bedroom. Dirk tells his brother that he is old enough to play a part in Holland’s fight to be free but Sebastian sarcastically tells him he’s too young.
When Dirk picks up a piece of paper dropped in the street with a message on it he knows what he has to do. "I looked round hurriedly. Yes, there were forbidden newspapers. I snatched a handful. It was the least I could do. After all, the pamphlet had said: pass this on. I would be able to do something for my country at last. I might not be able to kill Hitler, but I could do something to help." After creeping into his brother's bedroom and surreptitiously stealing the forbidden newspapers Dirk sets out on his mission.
However, Dirk’s actions only seem to endanger his family and his beloved teacher Mr De Lange who ends up being arrested. The desperate efforts to save them does result in some tragic-comic situations as Dirk attempts to dispose of the newspapers by flushing them down a toilet and giving them to a group of hungry pigs on his friend Eddie’s farm. But Dirk needs all his courage when he is confronted with his most important task of all, protecting Hadassa, a Jewish girl from capture.
Dutch author Gertie Evenhuis (1927-2005) based What About Me? On the diary that she kept about her experiences of growing up during the Second World War. Evenhuis’s likeable protagonist provides a chatty narrative as he shares his thoughts and details of everyday life in wartime Amsterdam. The horror and harsh realities of the Occupation – the marching soldiers, air-raids, food rationing and the ever-present threat of imprisonment for the slightest misdemeanour and the rounding up and deportation of the Jews – are not glossed over. It also offers a compassionate picture of a boy’s attempts to find his own place in an adult world.
Evenhuis was the author of over thirty books for children. As well as What About Me? (En Waarom ik Neit?), she wrote three other titles based on the diary she kept during World War II – Wij waren er ook bij (1964), De vaders en broers van Putten (1965) and En waarom ik niet? (1970).