Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Mari’s Hope brings Odin’s Promise to a beautiful close

Mari’s Hope, by Sandy Brehl (Sept. 2017, Crispin Books), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-883953-89-8

Recommended for readers 9-12

The conclusion of Sandy Brehl’s Odin’s Promise trilogy is finally here! Mari’s Hope continues the story of Mari, a Norwegian girl living under the German occupation during World War II. Mari, who was 11 when the story began, is approaching age 14 when the latest book begins. Her family is active in the resistance, and Mari’s involvement increases as she is older now, willing and able to take greater risks. She works with the local doctor to care for the sick and elderly in her village, Ytres Arna; travels to the city of Bergen to procure more medicine – and information – for her village, and tries to stay out of the way of the Nazi officers who live in her home; particularly the one she calls Goatman, who is a drunk and a thief.

Written in third-person narrative with first-person journal entries from Mari to her brother, Bjorn, Mari’s Hope is written with the same gentle strength as the previous two entries in the series. We see Mari grow over the three books from girl to young woman – a change that has come too quickly under the occupation – and deal not only with being a member of the Norwegian resistance, but with the stress of worrying about her brother; grieving her dog, Odin, killed by Nazi soldiers in the first book; struggling with a former friend who threw in his lot with the NS – Nasjonal Samling – Norway’s version of Hitler Youth. The family and neighbors stick together, sharing what little they have to provide for one another, whether it’s to have a birthday party for Mari or a holiday dinner for Jul. There are tense moments that kept me turning pages, sometimes biting my lip with concern, and there are moments where I just needed a moment to process my relief. Sandy Brehl never whitewashes the German’s devastation; rather, she states it quietly, eloquently, and leaves it there for Mari – and us – to process and move on.

The Odin’s Promise trilogy is a gorgeously written series of books that take us into a part of World War II history we don’t often hear about. Hitler invaded Norway with the lie that he was sending soliders to “protect” his “Viking brothers”, but proceeded to strip all freedoms from them and tried to supersede his vision of Aryan superiority over their rich culture. Odin’s Promise, Bjorn’s Gift, and Mari’s Hope tell this story through the experiences of one village, one family, one girl, who pushed back. I love spending time with Mari and her family; while I’m sad to see this story end, the beauty of books lies in knowing I can meet them again whenever I want to.

Odin’s Promise received the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction. It was also noted as one of A Mighty Girl’s Best Girl-Empowering Books of 2014 and one of Foreword Magazine’s Ten Best Indie Middle Grade Novels of 2014.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Bjorn’s Gift continues the story of a family under Nazi occupation

bjorns-giftBjorn’s Gift, by Sandy Brehl, (Oct. 2016, Crickhollow Books), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-883953-84-3

Recommended for ages 9-13

A couple of years ago, I was a first round Cybils judge for Middle Grade realistic fiction, so I had the chance to read a lot of new, independent fiction that I never would have discovered otherwise. One of the books, Odin’s Promise by Sandy Brehl, is the story of a young girl and her beloved dog, Odin, living in Norway during the Nazi occupation during World War II. The sequel – the second in a planned trilogy! – continues the story of Mari and her family, living under the tightening yoke of the Nazi invasion.

We see Mari, her family and friends, staying strong as the Nazis move into Mari’s home and encroach on every facet of her life. Her friend, Leif, is thrilled to be a member of the Unghird – Norway’s answer to Hitler Youth – and insists on reminding Mari that she should be honored to receive his attention. The families are faced with increased rationing, book banning, and watching friends and neighbors disappear under the Nazi regime, yet engage in quiet acts of resistance; Bestemor still has her radio to receive BBC broadcasts, her father shelters refugees in the attic; and, most importantly, Mari’s brother Bjorn is a full-fledged member of the resistance. Although absent throughout the story, Bjorn’s presence is strongly felt through Mari’s journal, taking the form of letters to him, and his carved toys that give Mari and her friend, Per, the strength to carry on.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Odin’s Promise yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a reminder that the Nazi occupation and their reign of terror against anyone of the Jewish faith or those who would dare to disagree with their policies was not limited to Germany. It’s an uplifting story about how everyone makes a difference in face of overwhelming odds. And Bjorn’s Gift is every bit as heart-rending and inspirational as its predecessor. I was so happy to revisit Mari and her family, and am so grateful to know that I will get to meet them again in one more novel.

Put this series in your classroom libraries and your historical fiction collections. Display and booktalk them with books that offer a wide range of information about children during World War II, like Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Hitler Youth, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, Sharon McKay’s End of the Line, Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and Karen Levine’s Hana’s Suitcase.

Odin’s Promise was the winner of the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction. You can find discussion guides for both Odin’s Promise and Bjorn’s Gift at author Sandy Brehl’s website.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

World War II fiction reminds us that there are stories outside of Germany and the U.S.

A lot of WWII fiction takes place in Germany or the U.S., with good reason – Germany and the U.S. were two big players in the war, after all. But how many people remember that the Nazis occupied Norway? Or that Anne Frank wasn’t the only little Jewish girl with a story to tell, coming out of Amsterdam?

I recently read two great books taking place during World War II, both nominated for the first round of Cybils consideration.

Odins-PromiseOdin’s Promise (2014, Crispin Books, $13.95, ISBN: 978-1-883953-65-2) by Sandy Brehl, looks at life in Norway under Nazi occupation. All signs of nationalism are illegal, but young Mari’s family finds a way to resist – and it becomes a family-wide effort.

Mari and her dog, Odin, find themselves under Nazi scrutiny on a few occasions. Fiercely protective of Mari, Odin is severely beaten by the soldiers, which only strengthens Mari’s resolve to get these men out of her country.

Odin’s Promise is a novel that also gives us a glimpse – briefly, but skillfully – into what life was like for young Nazi soldiers, shuttled to a country where they were actively hated, and “assigned” to families. Not every soldier wanted to be there, and not every soldier was personally detestable, no matter how awful their agenda was.

The story is a slow build to several outcomes – some bittersweet, some awful, some happy – and it’s the story of a young girl’s coming of age in a brutal time.

Sharon E. McKay’s The End of the Line (2014, Annick Press, end of the line$12.95, ISBN: 9781554516582) is based on a true story that I’ve never heard before, but blew me away.

Beatrix, a 5 year-old Jewish girl in Amsterdam, is on the run with her mother. Her Christian father has been taken away, and her mother tells her to trust no one. But when her mother is taken off the train by soldiers, what is she to do? Two elderly brothers, Lars and Hans, who work for the railroad, take the girl home and feed her. They realize what’s happened to her mother and see the heartbroken, malnourished little girl, and decide, with the help of their neighbor, Mrs. Vos, that they will keep her, telling neighbors that she is their niece.

This is an amazing story of what happens when a community comes together to take care of a child. The brothers and Mrs. Vos protect, feed, and clothe Beatrix. They make sure she receives an education, including a religious education, so that she can answer Christian questions if she’s pulled aside at any time.

The End of the Line is one of those stories that makes your heart feel like it’s beating out of your chest with each turn of the page. It’s wonderfully descriptive with emotion, and brings home how the people the Nazis supposedly felt kinship with (like the Norwegians) suffered under their watch. You’ll be angry, you’ll be horrified, but ultimately, you will feel incredible love and relief. I loved this book.

I’ve had a recent spate of middle graders coming into my library and asking for historical fiction related to both the Holocaust and World War II. In addition to Jane Yolen’s Devil’s Arithmetic and Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, I’ll be recommending these titles.