The Boys Who Challenged Hitler…a review

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.


Focusing on nonfiction picture books



Yet again, it’s nearly Monday (how does that happen?) and that means its time to take a look back over the week past and check out what I was reading. Each Monday Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers host their version of the meme originally hosted at Book Journeys by Sheila, where folks can chime in with their recent reading adventures. Go check out the link and add your voice, it’s fun.

This week had a focus, an intentional focus, which never happens. I tend to read randomly, especially as things cross my desk during moments of cataloging. But, I was feeling like I hadn’t been reading nonfiction, especially for the younger set and wanted to catch up with some biographies and a few others that I had seen floating around the library.


Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear and illustrated Julie Morstad. This one is a charming story about a little girl and her friend who decide that adults move too fast, pay attention too little and so they slow things down by creating a beautiful feast. This one is purely fictional, but it is inspired by the spirit of Julia Child and her strong belief in the power of food, and her playfulness.

20578698Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Hayelin Choi. Continuing with the famous chefs and food theme, this one is a more straightforward biography of Alice Waters, that highlights her early exposure and love of good food, moves quickly through her years establishing Chez Panisse and then finishes with her work around school lunches and the creation of school gardens.

18197197Albie’s First Word by Jacqueline Tourville and illustrated by Wynne Evans. Another fictional biography, the author was inspired to write this one when she read about Albert Einstein not talking until the age of three, and she wondered what that might have been like for both young Albert and his family. It’s a sweet, funny story. I shelved it in picture books, but was tempted to put it in biography just so people interested in him might find it. This spate of fictional biographies are confusing to the cataloger in me.

20613500Lifesize Rainforest by Anita Ganeri, illustrated (photographed?) by Stuart Jackson-Carter. I love this one. The photographs are gorgeous. Rainforest critters such as bats, bugs and a variety of reptiles are shown here full-sized, taking up sometimes a full double page spread. Short, informational paragraphs are included. Perfect for browsing and sharing.

There was some other reading as I’m still trying to finish The Churchill Club that I mentioned a week or two back, reading If I Stay by Gayle Foreman purely for my own enjoyment, and lots and lots of blog posts.


Modern Classics for Middle Grades?



Like many libraries we keep lists around the library to help students find books, make selections and generally try to encourage independence with reading choices. One of the lists is a “classics” list for our 4th through 6th graders and it includes titles such as Charlotte’s Web, The Book of Three, The Phantom Tollbooth, James and the Giant Peach, etc… you get the idea.

Over the past few days I’ve been talking with my 6th graders about many of the “classics” and how many of them they have actually read cover to cover, or had read to them. Most of the books listed had at least one or two readers, but very few kids had read more than five or so on the list. It was kind of surprising, but it did lead to a few kids checking out a classic or two, which was gratifying. However, that was not the particularly interesting part of the discussion. I asked them what books would be considered modern classics, phrasing it something along the lines of “what books are you reading now, or have read recently, that you think have staying power, that will end up on ‘classics’ lists in the future?”

This lead to some really great conversation about books and the difference between books they love to read and books they know are really well-written. Some excellent suggestions came up including Holes, Harry Potter, The One and Only Ivan, Wonder, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles (!). All great choices. A few kids tentatively threw out ideas such as Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games, both of which got some naysayers from the group saying that while they “were great stories, they weren’t particularly brilliant in the actual writing department”. I tried not to steer the conversation in any way, but I have my own thoughts about some more recent titles and wanted to see where the kids landed. It was a fun and surprisingly thoughtful discussion. And lively! Those kids have some strong opinions.

Anyway, it got me wondering what librarians would put on that list. What would you include, or exclude, and why?



It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?


It’s been a whole week, time to look back at my reading.

IMWAYR is a meme with a youth focus, hosted by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers, and originally concocted by Sheila at Book Journeys.

Let’s see, another slow week. Being sick and frustrating commuting experiences have conspired to make my reading mojo take a leave of absence. But, I did manage to eke out some reading this week.

22402972Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt is a great read. Finished it in nearly one sitting, of course, that one sitting was basically all day Sunday on the couch with a cat.

By the time Ally is in sixth grade, she’s been in seven different schools, has always struggled and pretty much assumes that she’ll never get it right. She has mastered the art of the dodge when it comes to answering questions, writing essays, reading aloud and memorized the way to the office, figuring anything’s better than doing schoolwork. When Mr. Daniels enters her life, Ally finds a glimmer of hope and a few friends. This one was lovely in all ways. Compelling, thoughtful, accessible. Just about everyone will be able to find something to love in this one. I’ll be sharing it with kids next week. It would also make a great class read-aloud.

23688743The Red Bicycle by Jude Isabella. In this nonfiction picture book a red bicycle finds several new lives as it passes through many hands. Leo is first, having spotted the bike in a shop near his house and saved for it, but when he eventually outgrows the bike he finds a way to donate it, where it ends up in Burkina Faso with Alisetta who uses it to take grain to market. Finally, it ends up with Haridata who uses the bike to ferry medications to those who live out in the countryside. I liked this one quite a bit, and can see lots of potential to share it with students, especially our 6th graders who spend all year studying Africa.

Look Where We Live! by Scot Ritchie.This is the kind of title helpful to classrooms st23094411udying communities, as it shows one community coming together during a street fair to raise money for the local public library. Kids visit stores, the library, a community garden, a retirement community, an ice cream shop and a number of other places. A nice introduction and discussion starter for the very youngest set.