We are delighted to be hosting an interview with author Deborah Hopkinson as part of a blog tour for her latest book Courage & Defiance, the story of Danish resistance to the Nazis during World War II. Our ARC Club reader who reviewed this book said:
“ I really liked this book because it shows how one person can make a big difference and one match can change the tide of a war. Kids who like learning about World War II would really like this book, and anyone who likes reading about history.” —Madi, age 12
Hooray for Books: You’ve written both fiction and non-fiction about a wide range of historical topics and time periods. How did you come to choose Denmark during WWII as a topic?
Deborah Hopkinson: Courage & Defiance is the first of three nonfiction books I’m writing on World War II. At author visits, I tell students that my favorite part about writing about history is the research: whenever we write about something we always learn something new.
While I’d heard a little about the rescue of the Danish Jews, I wanted to know more, and that is initially what drew me to the subject. Yet until I began my research I didn’t fully appreciate the scope of the resistance efforts in Denmark, and the ways in which ordinary people came together to oppose the German occupation. It was an inspiring story to learn about and tell.
My next two nonfiction titles on World War II will focus on submarines in the Pacific war, and the last will cover D-Day. Many of my other titles, including my forthcoming middle grade historical fiction, A Bandit’s Tale, the Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket, take place in the 19th century, so writing about World War II has definitely been an extraordinary learning experience.
HFB: What did you discover in the course of your research that surprised you the most?
DH: I think one of the most surprising things I discovered was the grassroots, ad hoc nature of the entire resistance, and especially the rescue of more than seven thousand Danish Jews. My mom was fond of telling us to “rise to the occasion,” and that is exactly what happened in Denmark the fall of 1943, when warnings filtered through about a planned round-up of Jewish families.
You might imagine that something as significant as getting seven thousand people out of the country would require a coordinated, large organizational effort. But that wasn’t the case. Individuals stepped up: whether it was knocking on doors to warn people, hiding families and making sure their apartments would be watched over until their return from Sweden, or helping to arrange transportation on fishing boats. I think readers who love Lois Lowry’s award-winning Number the Stars will enjoy reading more about some of the real people who inspired her fiction.
HFB: Is there any fact or story that you had to leave out that you can share with us?
DH: In many ways, the Danish resistance is personified by the actions of Niels Skov. Niels began to commit acts of sabotage as a young college student, roaming the streets of Copenhagen at night searching for German vehicles to set on fire, armed with nothing more than matches and an old screwdriver. I had the immense privilege of meeting Niels in October 2014, several months before his death at the age of ninety-five.
Niels had come to the U.S. after the war, written a book about his war experiences, and become a professor at Evergreen State College in Washington State. When I shared how amazed I was that he’d had the courage to act on his own this way, his lovely wife Diane happened to remember that Niels had kept that screwdriver he used in 1940, a tool his grandfather had made. Holding that small item held so much meaning, and I was able to photograph it for the book to share with readers.
HFB: How would you describe the role of young people in the Danish resistance and what do you think teens today can learn from them?
DH: Young people like Niels Skov were pivotal in the Danish resistance, especially in the early years when their government was urging citizens to accommodate the German occupation. College students like the four Kieler siblings, whose stories I also follow in my book, went from becoming involved in the underground press to performing dangerous acts of sabotage. Some young activists paid with their lives.
While teens in America don’t have to deal with an occupying force and soldiers appearing suddenly on our streets, young people nevertheless face difficult personal decisions every day. It’s not always easy to follow your conscience.
When I asked Niels what his advice would be for young people, he said, “Swim against the stream. Don’t do what everyone else does.”
HFB: Do you have any writing advice for young readers, especially those who want to write non-fiction?
DH: When I visit schools, I usually speak to students from Pre-K to eighth grade; I’ve also taught writing workshops to adults. But I always seem to give the same fundamental advice to anyone who wants to write (regardless of age): read a lot, write a lot, and revise a lot.
I often use a sports analogy when talking to students: we know athletes at all levels put in hours and hours of practice, and learn everything they can about their sport. Writing is much the same. Readers really do make writers.
Thanks again to Deborah Hopkinson for appearing! For other stops on the Courage and Defiance blog tour please check deborahhopkinson.com.