During World War II, there were many individuals from multiple countries who stood up against Nazi persecution. It still wasn’t the norm, though, as resisting took unbelievable amounts of courage and a desire/ability to see beyond the message that many government officials were delivering to the public. Therefore, the fact that so many of the residents of the Haute-Loire plateau in south-central France participated in small and large efforts to resist the Nazis is remarkable. Village of Scoundrels by Margi Preus (ARC provided by NetGalley and Amulet Books) is a work of historical fiction that describes the efforts of several children and young adults who chose to aid refugees despite the risk to their own lives. The book might be a work of fiction, but many of the acts of the young people profiled are facts.
Village of Scoundrels alternates between the experiences of several characters. We meet Phillipe, who takes Jewish refugees to safe houses and eventually across the border to Switzerland. Jean-Paul, who is Jewish himself, creates false paperwork for people being targeted by the Nazis and the Vichy government. Jules is ten years old, but plays an enormous role in the story as a courier of forged documents and the provider of false information to Officer Perdant who knows that something illegal is happening in the community he patrols (parts of Jules’ story are fictional, but we do know that there was a young goatherd between the ages of 10 and 13 who did carry forged documents to aid the resistance). These are only a few of the incredible characters in this truly remarkable story.
This book contains suspense, romance, and well-rounded characters, but it also demonstrates a level of historical detail that is not always present in young adult literature. The notes at the end of the book contain stories about the real people represented by the characters in Village of Scoundrels as well as information about what happened to them after the war. Preus also lists a variety of sources to which readers can turn to learn more about Haute-Loire. This region is still offering shelter to refugees from all over the world.
Few works of historical fiction do so much to bring to life the places and people they are depicting. Village of Scoundrels will continue to be an important resource to remind us that even in the darkest periods of history hope and love could be found in surprising places.
Discussion Questions and Ideas
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Justice 11: I relate to all people as individuals rather than representatives of groups and can identify stereotypes when I see or hear them.
Justice 15: I can identify figures, groups, events and a variety of strategies and philosophies relevant to the history of social justice around the world.
RL.1- Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
RL.3- Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
RL.5- Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
RL.6- Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).