Hitler's Canary - Sandi Toksvig

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Hitler's Canary - Sandi Toksvig

It's April 1940 and German troops are pouring onto the streets of Denmark. 12-year-old Bamse is ordered by his father to keep his head down and stay o...

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Review of "Hitler's Canary - Sandi Toksvig"

published 26/12/2005 | duskmaiden
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Pro baased on true story, well written, enjoyable
Cons Not available in paperback until May
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"The canary that would not be caged"

When it comes to wartime history it is the ordinary person’s story that I am interested in. I have read the stories of many people affected by the Second World War from British evacuees, to Polish resistance fighters and concentration camp survivors and have been fascinated by the tales they tell.
However I had very little knowledge of the war in the Nordic countries. This was rectified when I read Hitler’s Canary by Sandi Toksvig.

Hitler’s Canary by Sandi Toksvig is a delightful children’s novel based on her father’s experiences during the German occupation of Denmark.

Bamse is an ordinary nine-year-old boy with an extraordinary family when the Germans invade Denmark in 1940. His father is an artist and political cartoonist whilst his mother is one of Denmark’s leading theatre actresses. At first the occupation and also the varying attitudes to the Germans bewilder him. His brother is vehemently opposed to them and is involved with an underground resistance movement, his uncle Johan welcomes them whilst his father does not want to aggravate them so he can just live in relative peace. Many of Bamse’s friends including his fearless daring best friend are Jewish and as the war continues their liberties are restricted. What will become of them and how can Bamse, a young boy help save them from the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps? Hitler’s Canary, so entitled as Denmark was seen as a caged bird ready to sing for the Nazis whatever they did, is a book about secrets and courageous acts by normal Danish citizens.

The book is at times written simply but is not patronising to the target audience, which is children from about ten to fourteen year of age. I found the book clearly explaining things such as the Hitler Youth or the Danish equivalent, the holocaust and even the Jewish pogroms of the late 19th century. The characterisation is excellent. You really get the theatricals of Bamse’s mother and her colleagues. I felt sympathetic to Bamse, as he had to deal with the strangeness of War. The pace of the book was right and I found myself eagerly turning the pages to find out what would happen next. The tone of the book is pitched perfectly. There are comedic moments especially in the earlier part of the book that would amuse children, but the subject matter is treated very sensitively. This book would not bore a child. However like all good children’s books, adults can enjoy it as well (I read this for my book group). I think there are even things that perhaps a younger child might not notice. An example of this is Thomas, Bamse’s mother’s dresser. He delights in her dramatic outfits as much as she does and Bamse's Uncle Johan calls him not a real man. It is never actually said but it is certainly implied he is gay.

This was also a nice book to read due to the presentation of the book. It is not divided into chapters as such; instead it is divided into acts and scenes as in a play. This gives it a theatrical air, which is relevant due to the importance of the theatre in Bamse’s life. I also liked the book as it had nice little black and white illustrations that broke up the text and would be a point of interest for a child. It also has “programme notes” with facts about the occupation of Denmark, and a little about Sandi Toksvig's family’s actual experiences during the Second World War. At 270 pages it was a nice length as it was not too long so it did not drag, neither was it too short.

This book is not out in paper back until May 2006. The hardback copy retails at £8.99 but I bought my copy on Amazon for £ 7.69.

I imagine this book would work well as a reading book for a class in the later classes of Junior school or pre-GCSE students in secondary schools. It would be ideal for a doing a project on the Second World War and would be great contrasted by other books about children caught up in the war such as the Machine Gunners, Carrie’s War or the Diary of Anne Frank. It might also be good as an accompaniment for a visit to somewhere like the Imperial War Museum. I felt as an adult that this was a great introduction about how the Danes were affected by the war. I would like to do further reading on the subject to find out more. All in all I thoroughly recommend this book for adults and children alike.

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Comments on this review

  • solamarie published 05/01/2006
    It sounds very interesting, Sue
  • clownfoot published 05/01/2006
    Sounds intriguing, although I'm put off by the fact that it's a kids book. I think I've read too much regarding holocaust survivors accounts (Primo Levi being the most accomplished) that would possibly make Toksvig's work slightly trivial. But for a pre-GCSE secondary student, this seems a good way to integrate them into the writing of such personal and historical reflections/accounts. Alboy
  • Collingwood21 published 30/12/2005
    Have you ever read "When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit"? If you liked this book, I think it may appeal to you.
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Product Information : Hitler's Canary - Sandi Toksvig

Manufacturer's product description

It's April 1940 and German troops are pouring onto the streets of Denmark. 12-year-old Bamse is ordered by his father to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. But Bamse and his daring friend Anton can't resist playing the occasional practical joke on the invading soldiers. When it becomes clear that the trouble isn't just going to pass them by, the people of Denmark decide to take action and Bamse and his eccentric family are about to take part in one of history's most dramatic rescues - smuggling Denmark's Jewish population, across the water to Sweden, and safety. Many of the characters are based on Sandi's own family, including her father, Bamse, and the book was inspired by the stories her told to her. See all Product Description

Product Details

Type: Fiction

Genre: Children's

Title: Hitler's Canary

Author: Sandi Toksvig

ISBN: 0385608896; 0440866626; 1596432470

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Listed on Ciao since: 26/12/2005