In this children’s novel, a young girl lives the definition of courage during a time when courage saved the lives of thousands. A young girl named Annemarie Johansen lives in Denmark during the time of the Nazi occupation. She lives with her younger sister, Kirsti, and her mother and father. She had an older sister, Lise, but she was killed in a car wreck several years before the story takes place. Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, is Jewish, and Annemarie learns what kind of courage it takes one me have to save a nation and a people.
Lois Lowry shows an amazing sense of artistry, historical accuracy, and perception in this work. The language is easy to follow, with enough sentence variation to keep the mind moving along the sentence line. While she admits in her Afterword that most of the characters are fictional, she provides information about what was fancy, and what was real about the story. For example, the handkerchief secret towards the end of the book that saves all of the runaway Jews was a historical discovery which the Resistance used to thwart Nazi search attempts. The King Christian X truly was as beloved to his people as Lowry describes. And one can easily imagine the thoughts of Annemarie to have run through the minds of countless men, women, and children during those nightmarish years.
The primary characters and plot of the book are similar to most stories of the Holocaust that actually had happy endings. The Johansen family takes in the Jewish daughter of their good friends and neighbors, the Rosens. Mr. and Mrs. Rosen flee to another secure area when they learn of the coming raids, leaving their daughter, Ellen, in the care of their friends. Annemarie then witnesses the cold brutality of the German SS as they come to search for the Rosens. Annemarie even takes a few steps of her own, in her own act to save her best friend. After this first raid, Annemarie’s mother and sister, and Ellen travel to an uncle’s house who lives on the coast of Denmark, within sight of free Sweden. Through the help, cleverness, and diligence of Resistance workers, like Annemarie’s almost-brother in law, Annemarie sees the Rosens and other Jews leave for the safety of a boat to Sweden. Finally, with Annemarie’s quick thinking, and commitment to her friends and family, she allows for the final step of securing safe passage for the Jews, through the aid of the handkerchiefs.
Lois Lowry tells of the horrors of the Holocaust from the eyes of a young child. She faces the questions that all individuals faced at that time, and struggles to answer them, just as any adult would. While the answers to these questions are different throughout history, Lois Lowry shows what the answer should have been. For courage is not being unafraid; it’s doing what you must, despite your fears, in order to save those you love.