A lot of WWII fiction takes place in Germany or the U.S., with good reason – Germany and the U.S. were two big players in the war, after all. But how many people remember that the Nazis occupied Norway? Or that Anne Frank wasn’t the only little Jewish girl with a story to tell, coming out of Amsterdam?
I recently read two great books taking place during World War II, both nominated for the first round of Cybils consideration.
Odin’s Promise (2014, Crispin Books, $13.95, ISBN: 978-1-883953-65-2) by Sandy Brehl, looks at life in Norway under Nazi occupation. All signs of nationalism are illegal, but young Mari’s family finds a way to resist – and it becomes a family-wide effort.
Mari and her dog, Odin, find themselves under Nazi scrutiny on a few occasions. Fiercely protective of Mari, Odin is severely beaten by the soldiers, which only strengthens Mari’s resolve to get these men out of her country.
Odin’s Promise is a novel that also gives us a glimpse – briefly, but skillfully – into what life was like for young Nazi soldiers, shuttled to a country where they were actively hated, and “assigned” to families. Not every soldier wanted to be there, and not every soldier was personally detestable, no matter how awful their agenda was.
The story is a slow build to several outcomes – some bittersweet, some awful, some happy – and it’s the story of a young girl’s coming of age in a brutal time.
Beatrix, a 5 year-old Jewish girl in Amsterdam, is on the run with her mother. Her Christian father has been taken away, and her mother tells her to trust no one. But when her mother is taken off the train by soldiers, what is she to do? Two elderly brothers, Lars and Hans, who work for the railroad, take the girl home and feed her. They realize what’s happened to her mother and see the heartbroken, malnourished little girl, and decide, with the help of their neighbor, Mrs. Vos, that they will keep her, telling neighbors that she is their niece.
This is an amazing story of what happens when a community comes together to take care of a child. The brothers and Mrs. Vos protect, feed, and clothe Beatrix. They make sure she receives an education, including a religious education, so that she can answer Christian questions if she’s pulled aside at any time.
The End of the Line is one of those stories that makes your heart feel like it’s beating out of your chest with each turn of the page. It’s wonderfully descriptive with emotion, and brings home how the people the Nazis supposedly felt kinship with (like the Norwegians) suffered under their watch. You’ll be angry, you’ll be horrified, but ultimately, you will feel incredible love and relief. I loved this book.
I’ve had a recent spate of middle graders coming into my library and asking for historical fiction related to both the Holocaust and World War II. In addition to Jane Yolen’s Devil’s Arithmetic and Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, I’ll be recommending these titles.