Masters of Silence

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 08 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

Thank you net galley for the advance reader copy of this novel.   This was a fabulous historical fiction for middle grade readers involving WWII.   The story plot is of Jewish children hiding in Catholic orphanages and then walking to Switzerland.   One of the guides famous mom Marcel Marceau.    This was a great spotlight on a hidden gem of history.   The content was definitely guided for a middle grade reader but I will definitely recommend this to my school librarian to purchase!
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Sometimes, silence can speak louder than words as this novel about the world-famous mime Marcel Marceau shows.

Late one night siblings Helen, 14, and ten-year-old Henry Rosenthal arrive with their mother at a convent in the south of France, having clandestinely traveled there from their home in Kronberg, not far from Frankfurt, Germany. Their father had been arrested on Kristallnacht, and they have had no news of him for over a year now. Frau Rosenthal could hid with a Catholic family, posing as a servant for safety, but not the children and so they have journeyed to France, to a convent that was taking in Jewish children.

After their mother leaves to return to Germany in the hope of one day being reunited with her husband, Helen and Henry have their names changed to more French sounding names. Their new names are Claire and Andre Rochette. They are expected to assimilate into life at the convent and to be very careful about guarding who they and the other children really are, because as Mère Supérieure tells them "There can be no mistakes here...The safety of every child in this convent - the safety of us all- depends on each one of us." (pg. 37-8)

Fortunately both children speak French fluently, and though she misses her parents terribly, Helen begins to adjust to her new life, making friends with the other girls in her dormitory and a boy named Albert. For the most part, she likes the nuns, especially Sister Cecile but has particular difficulty with Sister Agnes, whom it seems Helen can never please and is given punishments for even the merest of reasons.

Henry, on the other hand, withdraws into silence as soon as his mother leaves, refusing to speak to anyone. He spends his time writing in a small notebook he had been given by Sister Cecile, who said that "maybe if he didn't want to talk, he could use it as a diary and write down his thoughts and feelings." (pg 41-2) The first thing he writes is his real name in big letters followed by a Jewish star, clearly in an attempt not to surrender his identity.

Helen is told that sometimes a clown named Marcel Marceau comes to the convent to entertain the children and they all look forward to his visits. And like Henry, the clown doesn't speak while he is performing his show. When the clown finally does come, Henry is immediately drawn to him and the way he can make himself understood without words. Henry begins staying after the shows, learning some of Marcel's miming mannerisms. A bond forms between them and they are soon able to silently communicate with each other.

But after a disastrous visit to the nearby village, where Helen and Henry are confronted by Nazi soldiers, life becomes increasingly dangerous at the convent. When one of the nuns is arrested, it is decided that the children need to be evacuated to Switzerland and safety, a few at a time. On the night that Helen, Henry, and Albert are scheduled to leave for the Swiss border, Marcel shows up to lead the way. It turns out the the clown is also a member of the French Resistance, who has been guiding people to the border all along by pretending to be a Scoutmaster. But as the Nazi danger grows, the trips are more and more perilous. Will they be successful escaping from France?

Masters of Silence is book 2 in Kacer's Heroes Quartet, the first book of which was The Sound of Freedom. And like Book 1, this is a fictionalized story that has its basis in fact - as a teenager, Marcel Marceau was indeed a member of the French Resistance and helped save Jewish children by bringing them to the Swiss border and providing them with forged papers and identity cards.

Masters of Silence is told in the third person, with points of view alternating between Helen and Henry. While is it is not an action-packed novel in the traditional sense, it is a nail-biting, tension-filled story that demonstrates the dangers and the fears that Jews were subjected to under Nazi domination, as well as the strength of one's sense of who they are, and that Jewish identity may be suppressed for safety's but it can never be destroyed.  

Helen is certainly a sympathetic character but is it Henry who really pulled on my heartstrings. Locked in his silence, angry, afraid, and traumatized, Henry learns how to communicate his feelings without using words, with the help of Marcel, and in the end, using what he has learned, he transforms into a courageous hero.

This is another excellent novel by Kathy Kacer, one that informs readers of another important yet relatively unknown WWII hero. Be sure to read Kacer's biography of Marcel Marceau in the back matter.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC gratefully received from NetGalley and Annick Press
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I was impressed with your inspiration of using Marcel Marceau as a hero and role model! Henry and Helen have their lives turned upside down when they have to escape from Germany and go to France when their father is captured by the Nazis and a friend suggests that a convent will hide the children.
Henry is only ten years old, he cries uncontrollably and he only speaks to his sister and his journal - Henry writes down all of his past and present ideas and circumstances in his journal in order to cope with his situation. 
Helen is 14, she makes friends with others, and she tries to comfort Henry and help him to adapt to changing his name and his identity as a Catholic orphan.
How would you react to changing your name and religion in order to save your life?
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Helen and Henry have been taken to an orphanage to hide from the Nazi soldiers.  Their mother has returned to Germany to try and find their father who was taken.  At first Henry refuses to speak but soon, with the help of a local clown Marcel Marceau, her begins to find his courage and a way of expressing himself.  But as the Nazis get closer the nuns decide that the children must flee to Switzerland with help from the famous mime.  
This was really interesting especially the inclusion of Marcel Marceau based on his real activities during the war.
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Masters of Silence
by Kathy Kacer
Annick Press Ltd.
Annick Press
Children's Fiction
Pub Date 12 Mar 2019

I am reviewing A Masters of Silence Through Annick Press and Netgalley:

Desperate to save them from the Nazi’s, Henry and  Helen’s Mother decides to take them away from their hom in 1940’s Germany and puts them in the care of strangers in France.  The two must hide their Jewish identity to pass for Orphans being fostered at a covenent in the foreign land.  A local mine visits bringing the children a much needed sense of joy, especially for Henry, whose experience has left him a selective mute.  

When an informer gives them up, Henry and Helen once again  are forced to flee the Nazi’s but this time the local mime Marcel Marceau risks everything to try and save the children.

I give Masters of Silence five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!
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I have students who only read historical fiction, so I will be purchasing this title for my library. I enjoyed how the nuns were portrayed as real people, and not stereotypes. I also appreciated the theme of self-reliance in difficult times. I anticipate my students will be putting this book on their "want" list after I complete books talks about it in my school and library.
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Kacer's story is remarkably told through the eyes of Helen and Henry. Two Jewish children hidden in a French convent during WWII. As they adjust to new identities, new routines, and the daily fear that they will be caught like their father, they must learn who to trust and who not to trust. Very reminiscent of the film Au Revoir Les Enfants. This book will bring the horrors that plagued children during WWII through to the modern reader in a way that makes them feel like they are with Helen and Henry.
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