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Lit_Boys Who Challenged Hitler

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose. Farrer, Straus, and Giroux, 2015. 208 pages.

What It Is: Middle grades and YA Nonfiction

What It’s About: A group of young Danish teens set out to defy the Nazis through sabotage when Hitler’s minions invaded Denmark during WWII. Frustrated that their countrymen seemed to be doing nothing and inspired by Norway’s resistance, the boys formed a secret club, risked their lives, spent time in prison, and helped spur their fellow Danes on to standing up to the Germans.

What Works: The primary source material in this book is marvelous. Hoose interviewed Knud Pedersen and liberally included Pedersen’s own words. The book is easily half Pedersen’s. There are photographs and plenty of other direct quotations as well. The book’s trim size keeps the narrative moving. Action-packed, this is a book kids will speed through. End material includes brief blurbs on the lives of those in the book post-WWII, author’s notes, chapter notes, bibliography, and index. Finally, that cover is so well done!

What Doesn’t Work: Not much! This book is a terrific example of well done narrative writing.

What I Think/Recommend: Definitely stock in a school/public library. It’s not the kind of title most families will feel the need to own, but it works equally well as recreational or school-related reading. For 8th and 9th graders studying WWII or character traits such as bravery or even general “resistance to power” themes, put this book on the list! It would be an interesting comparison to the Civil Rights Movement in terms of resistance. It’s also a non-concentration-camp angle to WWII that would help round out a WWII study.

Note: Any work that presents the Nazis even remotely accurately will be full of heavy stuff. This book doesn’t shy away from the harsh prison terms the boys experience, for instance. I’d keep this on the upper end of middle grades for most kids (or early YA).

The boys are not saints, but Knud’s father is a Lutheran minister. References to their religious background are present, but there is little to no indication that any of the boys are doing their actions because of religious conviction. Rather, they almost come across as hot-headed teens who happen to be acting out in ways we think are laudable (because they are acting out against the Nazis instead of their parents or teachers). It would make an interesting discussion to see what teens think of this!