Lowry fictionalizes—and personalizes—the true life account of how some of the Danish people, suffering like the citizens of so many other nations under the occupation of the Nazis during WWII, risked their lives to help smuggle Jews out of the country and to relative safety in near-by Sweden. After three years under German control, word is given to detain—for eventual execution—Denmark’s Jewish population. Ten-year-old Annemarie Johannesen and her family risk everything to help ship their neighbors, and Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, out of harms way.
Simply narrated, lovingly rendered, this Newbery Medal winning book paints an eloquent vision of a life turned upside down by the horrors of a war made all the more horrible by genocidal mania. No shortcuts are taken and no pandering made despite that the tale is gear towards children (thus perhaps making it well suited for part of a supplement to a school curriculum’s), yet the level of coverage is still within range of a child’s sensitivity with enough hints at worse atrocities to allow for child-adult conversations about the historical events. Since the protagonist is the young Annemarie, the events and descriptions are shaped towards what she would notice and how they would affect her life (soldiers now occupy the streets and are interfering with playful activities, butter is no longer available, and a general feeling of foreboding has fallen upon friends and family) rather than extraneous accounts about the overall war. Lowry adds a brief afterwards to inform the reader how much of the events are true and to what degree they had been fictionalized.