My Friend the Enemy
1941, a village in North-East England. German warplanes frequently drop superfluous incendiary bombs after bombing Newcastle shipyards. Peter, aged twelve, playing in the woods, sees a German Heinkel in flames and glimpses a parachute. One of the Nazi airmen has escaped the crash, and Sergeant Wilkes sends soldiers to find him, making it clear that the man will be killed. Peter and his friend, the tomboy Kim, sneak out that night to look for souvenirs from the wreckage, but instead find an injured German airman. Peter is unsure what to do. He’s been taught that Germans are evil monsters; he knows he should report him, but he doesn’t want the man killed in cold blood.
The children decide to hide Erik, who doesn’t look like a monster to them, just a frightened young man in pain. Kim splints Erik’s twisted ankle, and Peter sneaks food out of his mother’s larder and gives him some of his father’s old clothes. But how long can they keep him hidden?
This book grabbed me from page one. Peter must learn that true courage means behaving in a way that is morally right, even if adults are telling you something different. His agonizing over taking his father’s old clothes for Erik, stealing some of his mother’s scarce rations, and caring for the man he comes to regard as a friend, is very real. Moral choices are never easy, and Dan Smith doesn’t pull his punches as Peter gradually works out what his conscience says is the right thing to do, and holds to it.
Dan Smith obviously knows his history; the way belts had to be tightened during the war comes across naturally (Peter is often hungry) but Smith never resorts to info dumps; everything is woven in seamlessly. Highly recommended for children of 11 plus.