Monday, May 9, 2011

The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark

Written By: Carmen Agra Deedy

Illustrated By: Henri Sorensen

The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, written by Carmen Agra Deedy, is a powerful story of heroism, strength, pride, and unity.  During World War II, the Nazis invaded Copenhagen, Denmark.  King Christian X was said to be a strong leader who stood strong for his people.  As told in the legend, the Nazis ordered anyone who was a Jew to wear a yellow star to be visible at all times.  The people of Denmark were frightened because they had heard stories of Jews being taken away once they wore the yellow star.  King Christian X decided that all of Denmark would wear yellow stars in order to protect the Jews. 

Carmen Agra Deedy begins her story with a strong and intriguing lead.  “Early in the year 1940, in the country of Denmark, there were only Danes.  Tall Danes.  Stout Danes.  Old Danes.  Silly Danes.  Cranky Danes…and even some Great Danes.”  Deedy immediately catches the attention of readers and makes them want to continue reading.  Deedy also uses the technique of making a long story short in order to maintain the interest of young readers while providing enough information to give understanding.  For example, when letting readers know that the Nazis invaded Copenhagen, Deedy writes, “Soon Nazi solders gathered like dark clouds at the Danish border.  Their arrival in Copenhagen brought food shortages, curfews, and a new flag, which was hung at the palace.”

Deedy’s repetitive words and phrases throughout the story emphasize their importance.  For example, “If King Christian called on the tiny Danish army to fight, Danes would die.  If he did nothing, Danes would die.”  The emphasis is on King Christian’s dilemma—that regardless of what he did in order to solve the problem, Danes would die.  Deedy emphasizes the unity of the Danes when she states, “…there were only Danes.  Tall Danes.  Stout Danes.  Old Danes.  Silly Danes.  Cranky Danes…and even Great Danes.”  Deedy writes her story using simple, yet poetic text that is very easy to follow and understand.  For example, “The terrible news arrived quietly, with leaflets that fluttered down on the city of Copenhagen.”  She creates an image in our minds of people spreading both the news and their worry.   

Danish illustrator Henri Sorensen paints in a style that is both representational and impressionistic.  This combination of style is able to evoke strong emotions from readers.  At some points in the story, he illustrates with fine details—particularly in the faces of the people of Copenhagen.  Readers can see the fear and the worry in their eyes.  It is at these points where we are pulled in emotionally to the scenes.  In the beginning and the end of the legend, where there are only Danes, his style is more impressionistic—emphasizing light and movement over the fine details.   Sorensen also shows powerful images of war, which he illustrates in shades of black and white.  These colors help to distance the reader from the horror of war—as we see images of tanks, sinking ships, and groups of Jews walking towards Concentration camps.   Overall, the illustrations are paintings that look as though they should be on display as artwork—he is an unbelievable artist.

The Yellow Star is perfect to use in conjunction with Lois Lowry’s, Number the Stars.  The setting of Number the Stars is in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the same time period as The Yellow Star.  The legend of Christian X is a further extension to the character portrayed in Lowry’s novel.  Lowry does a phenomenal job of portraying the setting of Copenhagen accurately in her novel.  Having the background information from Number the Stars makes The Yellow Star all the more powerful.

Carmen Agra Deedy includes an Author’s Note in the back of the book that explains the authenticity and accuracy of the legend.  She mentions that unfortunately, there is only unauthenticated proof that the story of King Christian X and his legendary defiance ever occurred against the Nazis.  Deedy gained much of her perspective on the setting of Copenhagen from Lois Lowry’s, Number the Stars.  Through Deedy’s research, she did find that King Christian X did ride through the streets of Copenhagen without guard, no Jews were ever forced to wear the yellow star, Denmark was one of the only places that rescued the majority of its Jews, and the king did support the Danish Jews.

Although only a legend, through her Note, Deedy encourages us to think what would have happened if every Dane had worn the yellow Star of David in order to protect the Jews.  She further encourages us to think about what would happen if we could still follow the same example.  She states, “What if the good and strong people of the world stood shoulder to shoulder, crowding the streets and filling the squares, saying, “You cannot do this injustice to our sisters and brothers, or you must do it to us as well.””  Deedy leaves us with the powerful question, “What if?”

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