105 Ways to Give a Book

Hitler’s Canary

On a dreary, rainy day I picked up Hitler’s Canary, by Sandi Toksvig — because despite the word “Hitler” in the title, the cover was bright yellow and looked cheery. Plus canaries are pretty happy birds, right? Okay, so the book wasn’t all that cheery. It actually was about Hitler, or more specifically, the Nazi invasion of Denmark. It turns out that the phrase “Hitler’s Canary” was applied to Denmark because it turned over power so easily that it was said that the country sang for Hilter like a... canary. I also suspect — though I didn’t see it in the book — that the term came to mean that the country was a canary in the coal mine for what would happen to countries around Europe as Hitler marched forward.

For such a terrible time, the book wasn’t all that depressing. First, it was a well-written story of a boy growing up in the theater with an actress mother, an artist father, and a personal sense of the dramatic. Bamse also has a Jewish friend, a rebel brother, and a front-row seat to the madness that was the Nazi occupation of Denmark.

I knew little about this specific aspect of World War II, when Germany took over Denmark in one fell swoop. The tiny country didn’t have a chance. But when the Nazis started demanding the Jews be turned over to them, the Danes fought back — secretly. With the power of community, less than two percent of Denmark’s Jews died in the Holocaust.

Read an account of how this country worked to save its people, from the personal and fictionalized account of one family. It’s not as cheery as the yellow cover, but not as depressing as you’d expect. In fact, I’d call it inspirational. It reminded me of a personal favorite, Yellow Star — which had a far worse ending for more people, but was also hopeful in the survival and work that people put into saving one.


Jill Fales said...

Love your blog! Just found it tonight and its funny, informative, down to earth.
Thank you!

Michele said...


Funnily enough, I picked up a copy of this in my local Oxfam bookshop only a few weeks ago - haven't quite got around to reading it yet as I'd already two WW2 based stories this summer and didn't want to overdose (although both books were actually excellent and not half as depressing as I'd expected).

I confess, the main reason I bought it was because I love Sandi Toskvig - she always seems like a very warm person and I was intrigued to see what she'd done with this era...

Once I'm done re-reading Hamlet, I'll have to pull this one off the shelf!

Charlotte said...

I've added this to my list--thanks!