Author: Kathryn Griffin Swegart
Cover Illustration: John Folley
Publisher: Self Published.
Ages: 10 -14.
Although this book is aimed at a younger readership – I have to admit that I really loved it! The story is unusual, engaging, fast paced and enjoyable. I have no doubt that readers much younger than myself will love it too.
This is a story about war and courage and one young man’s struggles to navigate a complex and harrowing situation that he finds himself in. Felix’s simple family life is beautifully crafted by Swegart at the start of the novel. The threat of war grows like a shadow across this warm and loving family – and eventually Felix is forced to put on a soldier’s uniform and march away. Interestingly, the story is written from the point of view of a German family, caught up in the madness of World War Two.
In a stroke of genius, Swegart has included Rolf the German Shepherd in the story which works really well for this age range. Felix’s love for Rolf and Rolf’s loyalty and fun-loving nature bring a sense of positivity into the centre of the story. The horrors of war are present – we are introduced at one point to a soldier who has lost his legs and lay dying. But I didn’t find these depictions of war injury too scary or depressing – our hero always escapes with Rolf by his side so it is ultimately a very satisfying story.
The story is easy to read and well-paced so I believe this would be a great book for those young people who don’t always like to read. It is a very Catholic book: Felix’s younger brother has down’s syndrome and so he is whisked off to hide in a convent to keep him safe from Hitler’s horrific practices with regard to ‘disability’. Felix meets a priest, and they risk their lives to take the Holy Eucharist to dying soldiers. There are references to Felix’s Guardian Angel keeping him safe and a miracle at the end that saves him.
And the ending is happy – Rolf and Felix walk home along the familiar country road back to his cosy cottage and waiting family. He comes home as the returned adventurer – he has grown in wisdom and faith. Other virtues explored in this novel are courage and hope.
At the end there is an interesting epilogue that highlights the value and power of praying for the souls in purgatory. There is also some background information about the real-life heroes who are mentioned in the story.
Kathryn Griffin Swegart is a lay Franciscan and I have reviewed another of her books HERE.
Perilous Days has earned the Catholic Writer’s Guild Seal of Approval. It is Book 1 in a series of books entitled Brave Hearts. You can buy Perilous Days from Amazon HERE
Homeschool and teachers.
Independent learners could research the use of dogs in war: https://www.livescience.com/60518-animals-used-in-warfare.html this one includes pigeons that are also used in the story.
The story lends itself to a good history lesson about WW2 in order to give some background about the Nazi party and Adolph Hitler: https://www.natgeokids.com/au/discover/history/general-history/world-war-two/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/ (for older readers)
There is scope also to focus on the virtue of courage – how was Felix courageous? Did his courage ever fail him? Do you think you could have been as brave as Felix in a war? Why does Felix become a soldier and go to war?
For younger students a worksheet with questions and answers could be used, for older students I would set an essay after a discussion of the theme ‘courage under fire’.
You could also discuss the symbolism of the dragon introduced by Felix on page one. Why does Felix talk about a dragon of the mind invading Germany?
Saint Pope John Paul 2 was forced to join the Nazi Youth Party just like Felix was. Read this interesting Wikipedia summary of Pope John Paul 2’s early years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_life_of_Pope_John_Paul_II
You might ask students/homeschoolers to write an imaginative story of some of the adventures of young Karol Wojtyla.