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The silver sword

Raul Allén dazzles with his illustrations for The silver sword , published by The Folio Society
Three Polish siblings – Ruth, Edek and Bronia – are fending for themselves in the outskirts of Warsaw towards the end of the Second World War. Having received a message from their father, the three children, together with an orphan Jan, make their way across Europe to find their parents in Switzerland. With them is a talisman: a silver letter-opener in the shape of a sword, salvaged from the ruins of their house.

First published in 1956 (and titled Escape from Warsaw in the United States), The silver sword has been described by the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature as ‘one of the most remarkable books since 1945’. Hungry, homeless and separated from their parents, the children face great trials before finding their way home. But they also learn to rely on each other, and find kindness and help in unexpected places, from the German couple who shelter them to the Russian sentry Ivan who gives Ruth pencils and paper for her school. The warm and realistic portrayal of the children and their relationships mean that young readers can identify with the characters even today.