The Secret of the Village Fool

The Secret of the Village Fool


By Rebecca Upjohn and Illustrated by Renné Benoit


The true story of an unexpected hero.

Munio and his younger brother Milek live in a sleepy village in Poland where nothing exciting seems to happen. One of their neighbors is a poor man named Anton, who is so gentle that he won’t eat meat and he won’t harm so much as a fly. While the rest of the town makes fun of Anton, the boys’ mother is kind to him, often sending her reluctant sons with soup and clothing for the “fool” that no one respects.

When war comes to their country, everything changes. The Nazi soldiers come marching into the town and begin to round up Jewish boys like Milek and Munio. Anton worries about them and their parents, and comes up with a plan to hide the family in his own home, putting his life at risk without a thought. 

Anton’s courage and kindness shine through, proving that fierce bravery can come from the most gentle of people.

Includes a special section of photographs.

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About the Author

Rebecca Upjohn has worked as an architectural photographer, sheep farmhand, bookstore helper, and more recently a writer and film producer for an independent short film for children called The Go Cart. Rebecca lives in Toronto with her husband, Don and their two sons, Harris and Emmett. The author of the picture books Lily and the Paper Man and Patrick’s Wish, she is interested in characters who reach out to help others. She divides her time between New Hampshire and Ontario.

About the Illustrator

Renné Benoit has been drawing pictures since she could hold a crayon. She now works out of her home studio in Southern Ontario. Her recent work includes When-I-was-a-little-girl by Rachna Gilmore and Goodbye to Griffith Street by Marilynn Reynolds, which was shortlisted for the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon award, and won the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize in 2005.

Product Information

  • Release: September 15, 2012

  • $18.95 Hardcover with Jacket

  • 36 Pages

  • 8.5 x 11

  • Children's Nonfiction Picture Book

  • Ages 7-10 / Grades 3-5

  • Guided Reading: S

  • ISBN: 9781926920757


  • Character Education
    > Empathy
    > Prejudice & Tolerance

  • History & Social Studies
    > War & Conflict


  • 2014 Silver Birch Express Award Winner

  • 2014 Golden Oak Award Finalist

  • Bank Street College Children's Book Committee "The Best Children's Books of the Year, 2013" (Ages 5-9)



Praise for The Secret of the Village Fool

"Modern children are so far removed from the Holocaust that it is extremely difficult to convey its horrors. Upjohn makes this true story personal, immediate and accessible without resorting to bathos or sentimentality. Benoit’s sepia-tinted, ominously shadowed illustrations convey darkness, fear and uncertainty... Powerful and deeply moving." - Kirkus Reviews

"This picture book introduces a very difficult topic to young children. It could be used to explore themes of tolerance and acceptance of different beliefs and customs within a community, and discrimination on a larger scale using the holocaust as one example." - Canadian Teacher Magazine

"With a reporter’s eye for action and detail, she brings alive the horror, deprivation, and even boredom that the hidden Jews face while Anton, who never sheds his oddness, bravely denies their presence to both the Germans and the anti-Semitic villagers." - Publishers Weekly

"The stellar illustrations in muted greys and browns capture the sense of dread and hopelessness that pervades the town. The story has obvious tie-ins to history, world religion and culture and is remembered and honoured at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem. This poignant story of terror and loss is ultimately a moving story of heroism and hope." - Professionally Speaking

"The content is delivered in easy to understand and compassionate language. Further, the story provides teachable moments surrounding human nature." - CM: Canadian Review of Materials

"A true story, showing courage and kindness during a time of war." - Polish American Journal

"An excellent spring board in understanding oppression and social justice, humanitarianism, the Holocaust in World War II and the courage of people to stand up and fight for right, this book is highly recommended for inclusion in school and classroom libraries." - Resource Links

"The story is a tearjerker in all the right ways—neither overtly didactic nor overly sentimental. It, nevertheless, both teaches history and illustrates human compassion in unexpected places with its moving, straight­forward narrative.... This is a great book for elemen­tary school age children who are learning about the Holocaust and is sure to provoke much discussion. Highly recommended for ages 8 and up." - Jewish Book World Starred Review

"The Secret of the Village Fool shows Anton to be not a fool, but an angel, especially to those whose lives he saved and to their children, grandchildren and others they were able to touch. And to those of us fortunate enough to read this story." - CanLit for Little Canadians