Friday, September 5, 2008

Hitler's Canary by Sandy Toksvig

Ten-year-old Bamse joins his family in the Danish resistance, eventually helping to save his Jewish friend Anton. The story is arranged as an historical play (Bamse’s mother is a famous actress and his entire family is involved in the theater) with acts, scenes, dates, etc. and is based on Toksvig’s father’s experiences.

 This novel emphasizes a more complex morality than most novels of the Danish resistance, possibly because many of the main characters are from the less conventional world of the theater. In this story, not all Danes are “good” and not all Germans are “bad.”

This is exemplified in Bamse’s family; Papa doesn’t want to provoke the Germans, his brother Orlando wants to fight, Uncle Johan is a member of the Danish Nazis, and Bamse's sister Masha is involved with a German soldier. The extent of the novel, from the beginning of the occupation to liberation, covers the early lassitude of the Danes under occupation and the slow growth of the resistance. Also contains references to the German persecution of homosexuals. Somewhat heavy emphasis on not persecuting differences, accepting people as they are, etc. The story also gives a more complete picture of a family’s ordinary, if somewhat eccentric life, both before and during the invasion.

Historical References:Each chapter heading has dates and locations for the following action. The story begins in April, 1940, with the invasion of Denmark.
Pg. 42 Foreign Minister, Erik Scavenus and the arrest of the communists in 1941.
Pg. 56 The Churchill Club
Pg. 80 Prime Minister Vilhelm Buhl, protests against sabotage
Pg. 140 Bishop Fuglsang-Damgaard sends a statement of religious freedom and support for Jewish Danes to all Lutheran churches

Resources: The “program notes” briefly describe the rescue of the Danish Jews, including statistics.“Author’s note” tells some of the family stories behind the novel and the author’s inspiration.

Verdict: An interesting and unique look at the Danish resistance, but the writing (or perhaps the translation) is sometimes awkward. It's hard to know who the audience is for this - some elements are going to be too old and intense for elementary students, but the flavor and characters feel younger than a teen audience. Older middle grade is the best spot for it. An additional purchase if you have a lot of interest in world war II historical fiction.

ISBN: 978-1596432475; Published March 2007 by Roaring Brook; Borrowed from the library

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