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Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Churchill Club: Knud Pedersen and the Boys Who Challenged Hitler, by Phillip Hoose. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. 2015. $22.99 ages 12 and up

"Every day we made up plays and
skits that mocked the authorities.
We played trial scenes over and
over in the jailyard, imitating the
court officials we were coming to
know. The plays always ended
with the death penalty to all of
us - we put a white hanky over
our hearts when we died - and,
no doubt about it, we were deeply
worried about being executed."

I have long admired the considerable research that Phillip Hoose does for the stories that he shares with us. His writing it impeccable, and his ability to make his nonfiction accessible to a wide audience is enviable. His books work, thus garnering fans who patiently (or not so) wait for his next book to be published.

In The Churchill Club he shares the story of a group of brave and defiant young teens. The boys were disgusted by the fact that very little was done in Denmark to oppose the German invasion and the control taken by German officers during WWII. They were angry, and even embarrassed that their countrymen did not want to stir things up. In defiance of German control, the Pedersen brothers, Knud and Jens, organized a small group of classmates to do what they could to sabotage the German presence in the country they so loved.

Using bikes to get from place to place, these outwardly fearless young men spent five months in 1942 wreaking havoc on the German forces. They carried petrol with them in preparation for any small opportunity they might have to light fires. They vandalized and sabotaged German vehicles and buildings, stole guns and caused chaos whenever they had the chance. Most of their work was done in daylight as they needed to be home in time for supper and attend school the next day.

Their story is told in two voices. Much of the text is shared word for word from a weeklong interview that Mr. Hoose had with Knud Pedersen in 2012. Alternating between Knud's memories of their work so long ago and the compelling story that the author shares, readers are sure to be inspired by the boys and their dedication, their patriotism, and their brash resistance. Though they were eventually taken into custody and imprisoned, their heroism inspired others to act and ensured a renewed sense of pride in Denmark. Readers will appreciate that some of the Churchill Club members were able to continue their support through nighttime forays while imprisoned. They would 'break out', do their damage, and be back in time for their morning meal. A wide national underground resistance grew (taking inspiration from the boys who dared to challenge Hitler and his troops) and lasted until the war finally ended.

As he has done before, Phillip Hoose brings a little known story to our attention. He shares this remarkable tale in clear relevant text, using archival photographs, chapter notes, and his many email exchanges and the  personal visit with Mr. Pedersen. I hope that reading this book will lead readers to check out others written by this brilliant writer. They will not be disappointed.

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