Recommended for ages 9-13
A couple of years ago, I was a first round Cybils judge for Middle Grade realistic fiction, so I had the chance to read a lot of new, independent fiction that I never would have discovered otherwise. One of the books, Odin’s Promise by Sandy Brehl, is the story of a young girl and her beloved dog, Odin, living in Norway during the Nazi occupation during World War II. The sequel – the second in a planned trilogy! – continues the story of Mari and her family, living under the tightening yoke of the Nazi invasion.
We see Mari, her family and friends, staying strong as the Nazis move into Mari’s home and encroach on every facet of her life. Her friend, Leif, is thrilled to be a member of the Unghird – Norway’s answer to Hitler Youth – and insists on reminding Mari that she should be honored to receive his attention. The families are faced with increased rationing, book banning, and watching friends and neighbors disappear under the Nazi regime, yet engage in quiet acts of resistance; Bestemor still has her radio to receive BBC broadcasts, her father shelters refugees in the attic; and, most importantly, Mari’s brother Bjorn is a full-fledged member of the resistance. Although absent throughout the story, Bjorn’s presence is strongly felt through Mari’s journal, taking the form of letters to him, and his carved toys that give Mari and her friend, Per, the strength to carry on.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Odin’s Promise yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a reminder that the Nazi occupation and their reign of terror against anyone of the Jewish faith or those who would dare to disagree with their policies was not limited to Germany. It’s an uplifting story about how everyone makes a difference in face of overwhelming odds. And Bjorn’s Gift is every bit as heart-rending and inspirational as its predecessor. I was so happy to revisit Mari and her family, and am so grateful to know that I will get to meet them again in one more novel.
Put this series in your classroom libraries and your historical fiction collections. Display and booktalk them with books that offer a wide range of information about children during World War II, like Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Hitler Youth, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, Sharon McKay’s End of the Line, Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and Karen Levine’s Hana’s Suitcase.
Odin’s Promise was the winner of the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction. You can find discussion guides for both Odin’s Promise and Bjorn’s Gift at author Sandy Brehl’s website.