I Am David
by Anne Holm
For as long as he can remember, the concentration camp in Eastern Europe has been twelve-year-old David’s only life. He knows nothing about the outside world, but when he is given the chance to escape, he seizes it and runs. With the enemy around every corner, he struggles to survive in this dangerous new environment. His only possessions are a bottle of water, a compass, some bread, and a pocket knife, which he must use to reach the safety of Denmark. Will it be enough?
David is quite intelligent and resourceful for a twelve-year-old. When I read the book for the first time at age nine, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking back on it now, it seems a bit unrealistic that David could have survived on his own for so long in such an unfamiliar world and without being caught. In all fairness, though, perhaps he was hardened during his time in the camp. A child living without parents in such a brutal environment would need to quickly become capable and independent.
While the story may be slightly unrealistic, this small flaw is offset by the fact that David offers the reader an example of a self-dependent child who must make his own decisions and bear the consequences on his own shoulders. Despite his maturity for his age, David is still somewhat innocent and naïve in some ways. The innocence contributes to his desire to always do the right thing, while the naivety occasionally leaves him wondering what the right thing actually is. David’s dilemma provides an opportunity for discussion about his moral character and its application to morality in general.
As is the case with any book, especially historical fiction, the more background knowledge the reader has, the more he or she will enjoy I Am David. However, this book is written in such a way that not much background information is needed. When I read it, I didn’t know much about World War II besides the little I had learned in school. As a child, David doesn’t understand everything he sees, and his interpretation of events is sometimes confused. With more background knowledge, I may have understood more about what was happening to David instead of just viewing it from his perspective. It may be helpful for the parents to provide this background knowledge for their children in order to help them better grasp the meaning of events.
David’s age makes him a character with whom children can easily identify. When I was younger, my daydreaming often involved imagining myself in the same situation as the characters in the book I was currently reading and mentally acting out the scenes. Holm created a unique story about a boy, young and alone, seeking refuge in a completely foreign country that seems nearly impossible to reach given what he has. Through I Am David, the reader sees the aftermath of World War II with the eyes of a child, experiencing the confusion, distrust, and mistakes of a young boy in an unforgiving world.
If you are looking for a book to satisfy your young voracious reader or to read aloud before bed, this could be it. With its simple vocabulary and young, easy-to-identify-with character, I Am David also provides historical perspective and is excellent for discussion between children and parents.