The Silver Sword

The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier (first published by Jonathan Cape in 1956, then by Puffin Books in 1960)

Introduced by Lesley Arrowsmith of Hay Cinema Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye

I’m not sure which is the very first book I chose for myself in a bookshop, but this is the one that made the biggest impression on me.  Mrs Ogden, class teacher when I was seven, read from this book at storytimes, and I was entranced.  I didn’t actually get my own copy until I was eleven, though, when it was a present from my mum for passing the Eleven Plus!  I still have that copy now.

It’s the story of a family in Poland during the Second World War, and how they manage to survive.  The father, a teacher, is arrested and put in a prison camp, from which he escapes early in the book.  The mother is also taken away, so it is left to Ruth, the eldest daughter, to keep the three children together in bomb-damaged Warsaw, scavenging for food and living in bombed out cellars, with the help of their friend Jan.  Jan has a box of treasures, and the chiefest of these is the silver sword of the title, a letter opener which he carries with him everywhere.

When the war ends, the children make their way to Switzerland and, amazingly, manage to find their parents again.

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A few years ago, the son of a friend also had the book read to him at school – and like me, he was deeply affected by it, to the extent that he was caught one day crawling into the kitchen to steal food like Jan would have done!

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What was the first book you chose for yourself in a bookshop? Comment below – with the name and location of the bookshop if possible. Or send in a blog entry for A Book a Day in Hay. Up to 500 words, or a video of up to 2 mins to: thestoryofbooks@gmail.com 

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