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Books serve as enlightening gifts for Festival of Lights

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler (Raincoast Books)

Families and friends will gather on Dec. 6 to light the first Chanukah candle. Dinner guests invariably bring gifts for the children, and books serve as fine keepsakes.

Here is a sampling of recent publications to accommodate readers in primary grades and middle school or junior high school readers. Distributed by Raincoast Books in Canada, the titles are timely and enlightening.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

When Germany occupied Denmark in 1940, the king, political dignitaries and countrymen initially surrendered. However, a group of teenagers sought revenge. Knud and Jen Pedersen, sons of a respected clergyman, were the prime movers behind the RAF and Churchill Clubs in Odense and Aalborg, Denmark. The clubs were named after Winston Churchill and the British RAF that the boys admired for standing up to Hitler. The youth were ashamed of their nation, lamenting Denmark should have emulated Norway and fought back. Their other neighbouring nation, Sweden adopted a neutral stance.

Despite lack of resources and training, the boys created havoc for German troops by repainting Nazi signs and insignia and destroying property. They were caught and imprisoned for over two years, but their heroics inspired other Danes to rise against oppression. Ultimately, tiny Denmark helped save more than 700,000 Jews from being delivered to German death camps.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose, distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books, is geared for  young adults, but mature readers of all ages will find this hardcover nonfiction book enlightening. Although Denmark’s deeds are common knowledge, Hoose reveals facts and treats readers to impressive first-hand reports by Knud Pedersen. Hoose, an award-winning American author was alerted to the Danish teenagers’ heroics in 2000 when he visited a museum in Denmark.

Upon his return to the United States, Hoose contacted Pedersen about writing the story, but was refused because of an earlier offer. Hoose’s second attempt in 2012 was accepted. Pedersen implied the initial plans fell through and he was eager to get started. He offered to host Phillip and his wife, Sandi, at his cottage in Denmark and encouraged them to visit soon.

In addition to conducting numerous face-to-face interviews with Pedersen and other principals involved, Hoose collected maps, drawings, photographs, copies of documents and pertinent background material. The layout of the book is innovative and newsworthy. First-hand reports, narratives, boxed information and illustrations bring the story to life. After the visit, Hoose kept in contact with Pedersen until the 88-year-old war resistance hero died in December 2014. Hoose briefs readers on the fate of all the principals involved in the story. In addition to his contribution to the war effort, Pedersen, an accomplished artist,  felt everyone should be privy to prized artwork. Hence, he founded the world’s first art library in Copenhagen.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon is distributed by Raincoast Books in Canada, and is perfectly timed for Chanukah. Oskar, a young refugee from Europe, arrives alone in New York City on the seventh night of Chanukah in 1938.

The bewildered lad’s only clue to his future digs is a photo and address of an aunt he has never met. Oskar’s astute parents sent him off after enduring Kristallnacht. His father’s parting message drives home the underlying theme of the story. “Oskar, even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.”

Oskar and the Eight Blessings
Oskar and the Eight Blessings

Readers, ages four to eight, as well as older peers, parents and educators, will be mesmerized by illustrator Mark Siegel’s magnificent paintings. He conveys Oskar’s trepidation, fascination and gratitude while finding his way in the immense city lined with high buildings and strangers. The New York co-authors have independent writing careers but Tanya Simon worked in tandem with her husband, Richard, to bring his topic to fruition. To discover his motive, check out the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book.

Young readers of this book are subliminally introduced to meaningful information. Furthermore, the dates, styles, celebrated personalities and events are accurate. The authors embrace the Festival of Lights and note the seventh night of Chanukah in 1938 coincided with Christmas Eve. The authors allude to the spiritual significance of the holidays and show how Oskar received acts of kindness from strangers of every persuasion.

Photos courtesy of Raincoast Books in Canada