When We Were Shadows

When We Were Shadows


By Janet Wees


Walter and his family stay one step ahead of the Nazis, hiding to save their lives.

Walter is a young child when his parents decide to leave their home in Germany and start a new life in the Netherlands. As Jews, they know they are not safe under the Nazi regime. From one day to the next, Walter's world goes from safe and predictable to full of uncertainty. Walter is at first too young to appreciate the danger that he is in, and everything seems like a great adventure. But as the years pass and the war progresses, his family is forced to move again and again, from city to countryside to, eventually, a hidden village deep in the Dutch woods.

As the danger of being discovered increases, they are forced to rely on strangers for their safety. Walter’s eyes are opened to the threat that surrounds them every day, and to the network of people who are risking their lives to help them stay hidden. Told through a combination of narrative and Walter’s letters to his grandmother and, later, his granddaughter, the book—based on a true story—shines a light on this part of WWII history and the heroes of the Dutch resistance, particularly those involved in the hidden village. Without their protection, Walter, his family, and hundreds of others would not have survived.

"This is more than an account of one boy's wartime experience. It is a story of human resilience, the power of family, and the kindness of strangers even in the most extreme situations." - Rona Altrows, author of At This Juncture
"A gripping story, expertly told, of humanity in the face of indescribable evil. This account of Jewish people on the run in the Netherlands during World War 2 adds new historical facts to a chapter we thought we knew all about but is ultimately about more than that; it speaks of the power of courage, resilience, and kindness in a time of extraordinary danger." - Naheed K. Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary
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About the Author

Janet Wees has been writing since she was nine years old. A retired teacher, she spends her time writing children’s picture books, reading, walking, writing letters, cycling, and traveling. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.

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Product Information

  • Release: April 3, 2018

  • $14.95 Paperback

  • 200 Pages

  • Children's Nonfiction

  • 6.5 x 8

  • Ages 9-13 / Grades 5-8

  • Lexile: 810L Guided Reading: W

  • ISBN: 9781772600612


  • Reflecting Diversity
    > Cultural & Ethnic Diversity

  • Character Education
    > Prejudice & Tolerance
    > Courage

  • History & Social Studies
    > WWII & The Holocaust


  • 2020 Rocky Mountain Book Award - Nominated

  • 2019 OLA Forest of Reading Red Maple Award for Non Fiction - Nominated - #1 Honour Book

  • Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books of 2018, Canada – Commended


"... a perfect choice for school libraries... When We Were Shadows will inform readers, young and old, on the journey of a young boy during the Holocaust, but ultimately it will inspire all to discover how the human spirit can triumph over evil. Highly recommended." - CM: Canadian Review of Materials

"Most effectively, Wees conveys the gnawing fear that does not go away, as Walter questions, 'What was it about being Jewish that was so bad?'" - AJL Reviews

"Engaging and inspiring, When We Were Shadows speak to the dangers of oppression, prejudice and hate, but also to the indomitable human spirit and the will to survive." - Canadian Children's Booknews

“This is a moving and sensitive true story about the strength of the human spirit to survive.” - Children’s Books Heal

When We Were Shadows is a beautifully written book that tells an important story of survival through the eyes of a child from 1937 to 1945.” - Edmonton Jewish News

“…this book made me feel proud, if that is right word, that many people didn’t turn a blind eye to the horrors going on around then and tried their best to do what was right.” - Book Talk