The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015. 198 pages including appendices
Bottom Line: The story of how a handful of schoolboys sparked the Danish Resistance makes thrilling reading for middle-graders interested in WWII history.
In 2000, during a bicycle tour of Denmark, the author visited the Museum of Danish Resistance, where he came upon an exhibit about “The Churchill Club”—a band of schoolboys who, in the early days of the Nazi occupation, were determined to fight the occupiers any way they could. On bicycles, they carried out a five-month campaign of sabotage, harassment, and destruction—all in daylight, because they had to be home by dark. By May 1942 they were caught and imprisoned, but their defiance helped light a fuse under the petrified Danish population, which burst into organized resistance the following year.
Fascinated by this little-known historical nugget, Phillip Hoose discovered that the acknowledged leader of the band, Knud Pedersen, was still alive. In time author and hero became close friends and much of this book is drawn from Pedersen’s memory.
Admittedly, the boys, almost all of them ninth-graders at a Protestant school, began their resistance partly out of hurt pride. Germans had invaded both Norway and Denmark, yet the Danes rolled over while the Norwegians fought back. Somebody had to reclaim their country’s honor! The call of adventure appealed to their youthful hearts as well, even though their experiments with captured bombs could have easily spelled kaput to the fledgling resistance. Their parents didn’t find out until the boys were arrested (and subsequently spent over two years in prison), but Knud’s father, a Protestant pastor, soon joined the Resistance himself. The Club never actually killed anyone, but the most poignant incident involved a proposed raid on a remote German barracks, during which three of the boys met and talked with the only soldiers there: three homesick grandfathers. The boys were secretly relieved when circumstances prevented the murder.
When the Churchill Club was identified, Kaj Munk, a well-known poet, wrote to Knud’s parents: “Of course what they have done is wrong; but it is not so wrong as when [our] government gave the country away to the invading enemy . . . Now it is time that good people in our Lord Jesus’s name must do something wrong . . .” That time does come, when good people must act. And sometimes mere boys can show the way.
Also by Phillip Hoose: Moonbird
Cautions: Language (mild cursing: “hell”)
Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Categories: Middle Grades, Nonfiction, History, European History, War, Character Values
boys, nonfiction, middle grades, WWII, war, courage, Denmark, The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, Phillip Hoose, reading level: middle grades ages 10-12, recommended for: ages 10-14