Lynn: It’s March and we bloggers have mostly leaped into the new publishing year. I’m still playing catch-up though and I’m so glad I didn’t miss Shadow on the Mountain (Abrams/Amulet 2012). Preus writes about a part of WWII history that most of us know little about and bases her book on the “true experiences of a war-time spy,” something that will be fascinating for young readers.
Spanning five years, the book begins in 1940 just after the Nazis have invaded and occupied Norway “for their protection.” The Germans expected to be welcomed. After all, the blond blue-eyed Norwegians were the very image of the Aryan Master Race the Nazis held up as a model. Some collaborated of course but most Norwegians resisted, some in small ways and some in big ones, although all resistance was incredibly dangerous. Fourteen-year-old Espen started out resisting in small ways – delivering forbidden newspapers and although he was frequently very afraid, Espen slowly began to be involved in much more dangerous actions. Preus unfolds a fascinating tale packed with the intricate detailing of resistance activities and enough danger and suspense for several movie scripts. Espen’s role escalates in complexity and danger until finally he has to flee for his life, dodging an active search, and the reader knows that if caught, Espen’s “guide” would have to kill him to preserve his knowledge from falling into German hands.
In addition to the suspense and adventure, this is a story filled with interesting and well-developed characters and their every-day lives and issues connect them solidly to readers. Espen dreams of adventure, falls in love, worries about his friends and is often exasperated with his younger sister. He is an ordinary boy who eventually does extraordinary things and this makes Prues’ skillful portrayal of his courage all the more affecting. Espen is frequently terribly afraid – and with very good reason – and yet even while admitting that fear to himself, he does intensely brave things – the very essence of courage. I think it is this element that makes the book stand out particularly for me.
The book design stands out too and it is a pleasure to hold and read. Preus provides lots of terrific extras too. There is a pronunciation guide that was especially helpful, a map of the town, a fascinating Author’s Note with more historical background and explanations, a timeline, bibliography and a truly remarkable set of photographs of the “real” boy in the story, Erling Storrusten.
Stock up with extra copies as this book has terrific curricular connections and will be a dream for historical fiction units but it is sure to be popular on its own. This is one that kids will recommend to each other and there’s no higher praise than that!