The Boy Who Held Back the Sea

The Boy Who Held Back the Sea
The Boy Who Held Back the Sea

Charming picture book retold by Lenny Hort and illustrated by Thomas Locker that tells the story of a rather delinquent boy in fifteenth century Netherlands who reforms himself after he discovers a hole in the dike and plugs it with his finger.

Jan was a boy who never studied, who was always crying wolf, who once lied to his parents about visiting an old man and instead went into town and broke windows, and was a basic truant.

One day Jan and his dog discovered a leak in the dam.  He ran for help and told the constable but he wasn’t believed because of his history of making up stories.  The constable told the boy to run back and await help, but the constable had no intentions of sending help.  He saw an old captain and told him to run for help, but the captain wasn’t believed either because he was accused of breaking windows (when it was really Jan).

Hence, Jan ended up plugging the hole himself with his finger while he awaited help that was never coming.  He sat there all night until the next morning he was discovered by the schoolmaster.  He was tired and weak but had saved the city.  A grand festival was held in his honor, but Jan snuck off to visit the old man he was supposed to have visited before.

The Boy Who Held Back the Sea is a timeless story of doing what is right in the face of adversity. Great pictures.  Great portrayal of the historical time period.  Great lessons for kids about always telling the truth and always keeping your promises.  Great portrayal of the consequences of crying wolf and vandalizing property.  Yet, in the end, it’s always possible for redemption. Highly recommended!

Katje the Windmill Cat

A delightful tale by Gretchen Woelfle that tells of a cat named Katje who first rules the roost until his master, Nico, marries.

Nico grinds grain in a windmill and Katje keeps the mice away.  They have a very loving relationship.  Katje spends her days chasing mice and her nights curled up in bed with Nico.  They go for long walks together and watch for storms.

Katje the Windmill Cat
Katje the Windmill Cat

One day, Nico marries Lena and brings her home.  Katje’s coveted spot on the bed is taken over.  She brings in dust and is constantly being swept out by Lena.  Once the baby arrives, Katje is constantly being swept away off the crib.  But Katje still sneaks in to play with the baby.  Katje decides to not come home anymore and instead sleep in the mill.

One day a huge storm hits and the dike breaks, flooding the town.  Katje and the baby are swept up in the floor.  Katje keeps the cradle balanced so it won’t tip over.  Both are rescued, safe and sound.

Katje is now allowed indoors and sleeps in the cradle as her own once the baby outgrows it.  She is careful to lick her paws before entering.  She plays with the baby and chases mice, content once again with her life.

Based on the St. Elizabeth’s Day flood in Holland in 1421 where the dike broke, a cat and a baby did survive the flood, huddled together safe and sound.  The dike was rebuilt and named Kinderdijk which means Children’s Dike in Dutch in honor of the baby who was saved by the cat.

Charming story of how marriages and other life events can shake things up in a family not only for people but also for pets.  Great depiction of the bond between animals and children and animals and people and how they come together in the face of adversity.

Highly recommended as both a historical source of Middle Ages Netherlands and as a feel-good tale.  Illustrations complement both nicely.