Thursday, May 03, 2007

Hitler's Canary

In the last several months I have noticed an increase of new Holocaust literature being reviewed for children. In addition to various titles reviewed in Horn Book, Booklist, and Publisher's Weekly, School Library Journal's March 2007 edition presented an interesting article titled: Focus on the Holocaust: Bearing Witness Through Picture Books that detailed recommended reading selections of Holocaust literature. As a result of collection development endeavors, I have added several quality titles in this historical area, both fiction and non-fiction, to the library juvenile collection in the last six months.

One that continues to stand out in my opinion is
Dark Hours by Gudrun Pausewang; it's unique in both storytelling and point of view. This afternoon I picked up another title, Hitler's Canary by Sandi Toksvig, that falls in to the same category. As with Dark Hours, Hitler's Canary is a work of fiction inspired by a personal story passed down to the author, Toksvig, from her father. Set in Denmark, the novel spans several years during the German occupation of Denmark in World War II.

Bamse, his father a painter and political cartoonist and his mother an actress, is one of three children. He has an older brother Orlando, a sister Masha, a wide and varied circle of theater friends and a best friend named Anton who is Jewish. One afternoon, seemingly overnight, Denmark becomes an occupied country and brought in to the war. Bamse's father insists they do nothing but live their lives and wait to see what happens, Orlando joins an underground resistance against the Germans, and Masha is having a secret romance with a German soldier. The following exchange between Orlando and his father brings to light not only the title of the book, but also the struggle many of the Danes had during World War II.

"I don't want you getting involved, Orlando. You're only sixteen. This is not your fight."

"Isn't it, Papa? Then whose fight is it? Why aren't you doing something? What's the matter with you? Why are you just letting this happen? Do you know what the British are calling us? Hitler's Canary! I've heard it on the radio, on the BBC. They say he has us in a cage and we just sit and sing any tune he wants." (p. 43)

As each character struggles to do what they believe is right, what follows is a heart wrenching account of the underground rescue of Danish Jews and how it effected one young boy, his family, and their friends. A short epilogue provides information on the actual rescue effort and sections titled "program note" and "author's note" detail facts surrounding the books historical time period and personal information regarding the author's background and basis of the story. This is another fine book about the Holocaust that enlightens readers to how ordinary people handled the atrocities of war, performing feats of bravery "because it was the right thing to do" (p. 191).

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1 comment:

susan said...

I found some great fiction book reviews. You can also see those reviews in Fiction short story