The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club
by Phillip Hoose
FSG, May 12, 2015
E-ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Ah, World War II narratives never get old, and this one is a doozy. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose shares the story of the German invasion of Denmark and the Danes response to this invasion, or, in the beginning, lack of response. The actual Churchill Club was formed when a group of like-minded teenage boys were upset about the official “acceptance” of the German presence in Denmark. They had witnessed neighboring Norway’s rebellion against the Germans and were ashamed that the Danes couldn’t muster a similar attitude. And so, they quietly began to commit acts of sabotage around their small village, seeking out German automobiles to disable, buildings to vandalize, anything to slow down the German war machine. When two brothers, Knud and Jens Pedersen moved with their family to a new town, they slowly began to form another outpost of the Churchill Club, named after Winston Churchill himself and his courage-inspiring speeches that helped the Brits keep working against the Germans. As the new group of boys grew more confident in their acts of sabotage, they perhaps grew a bit bolder, allowing themselves to be seen more often. This eventually led to capture, and jail time for almost all the members of the group. The book spans years, following the boys’ initial attempts, their growth in numbers and confidence, and then into jail. Their work did eventually inspire a strong resistance movement in Denmark, but it took their spark to set the fire. Hoose has done his research here. Extensive interviews with Knud Pedersen are in the forefront here, but supplemented with newspaper accounts, trial records, and all sorts of other primary source materials. The writing is tight, and detailed, but the pace of the story rarely lags, making for an exciting read.
The Ins: My middle schoolers are going to love this one. Those who whipped through Sheinkin’s Bomb are going to jump on this one. It pairs nicely with some fictional stories of Scandinavian resistance such as Preus’ West of the Moon or McSwigan’s Snow Treasure.
The Outs: My only quibble, and this one is more me than the writer or the story, but so many people and events make it difficult to follow sometimes when the pace of the story is really clicking along. I found myself having to repeat sections just to make sure I understood who was who, and what was what. Minor issue, as far as I’m concerned.
The All-Around: A great narrative that tells a great story, and one that hasn’t been heard before. I love WWII stories that focus on kids, so much more compelling for students to read about people they can relate to, and WWII holds endless fascination for many of my students. I’ll be booktalking this one a lot.