________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 7 . . . . November 23, 2007


Honey Cake.

Joan Betty Stuchner. Illustrated by Cynthia Nugent.
Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books, 2007.
92 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-896580-37-1.

Subject Headings:
Denmark - History-German occupation, 1940-1945 - Juvenile fiction.
World Ware, 1939-1945 - Denmark - Juvenile fiction.
Jews - Denmark - Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.

Review by Danya David.

**** /4


“The king is a brave and honourable man. He loves his people.” We all wanted to talk more about the king and the occupation, but Miss Kiersted clapped her hands for quiet. “Despite the occupation and all the bad things happening in the world, we still have to carry on. When all of you grow up, you will make the world a much better place.”


During World War II, most Nazi-occupied governments made the Germans’ job easy by offering over their Jewish populations for deportation. European cooperation was vital to Hitler’s plans. By 1945, less than half of Europe’s Jewish population of 10 million was kept alive. More than half of European Jewry had been eradicated. How was it, then, that while entire communities were extinguished, ninety-nine percent of the Jewish community of Denmark was saved?

     Resistance to injustice can take many forms. Although Denmark was Nazi-occupied between the years of 1940 and 1945, the country’s leader at the time, King Christian X, along with Denmark’s citizens, remained resistant to tyranny. Acting as a model to his citizens, the King was known to ride through the streets of Copenhagen, alone and unprotected on horseback, refusing to wear swastikas and disallowing his citizens to be branded with yellow stars. His acts of defiance represented all Danes’ loyalty to equality and to basic human rights.

     Joan Betty Stuchner and Cynthia Nugent’s Honey Cake is a boy’s account of life in Nazi-occupied Denmark. David Nathan, proud both of his Jewish and Danish identity, is a curious, playful, and sensitive boy who helps out in his father’s bakery. The story begins with the days leading up to the Nazi invasion, the onset of autumn, and the anticipation of Rosh Hashanah. As German soldiers begin to appear in Denmark, David sees that the world around him is rapidly changing. He soon discovers, despite his parents’ fears, that his sister is involved in the Resistance and that basically everyone seems to be involved in secret missions of some sort or another. Jews and non-Jews alike were collaborating to refuse the deportation of Denmark’s Jews.

     Spirited and eager to contribute to the integrity he sees around him, inspired by his older sister Rachel, and emboldened by his best friend, Elsa Jensen, a non-Jew who together with her family risks her life to save others, David becomes a tiny yet essential thread in the mission to save Denmark’s Jews. These everyday acts of bravery ultimately save David and his family as they are rescued by the Danes who arrange a fleet of fishing boats to transport nearly all of the Jewish population to Sweden. 

internal art

     Stuchner's writing captures the child’s voice well. Although the opening pages lack a certain narrative flow, the story soon takes on a natural momentum. The reader comes to identify with David quickly, sensing his wonders, fears, and resilience.  

     For such a short book, the story is succinct and impactful. The reader anticipates and empathizes with the characters who are developed with incredible subtlety. Stuchner is able to evoke a whole time and place with extreme economy. The setting is rich and palpable; the story is real. 

     Cynthia Nugent’s illustrations are charming and sweet but also poignant in their childlike depiction. Her skillful use of line renders mood and facial expression with great impact. The illustrations are also woven into the text seamlessly, almost like a graphic novel, with words and pictures constructed around each other. The real honey cake recipe at the end lends a delightful and powerful touch, alluding to the sweetness and persistence of Jewish tradition. The historical afterword is informative, contextualizing David’s story in time. 

     Although David Nathan’s story is fictional, it is based in events that were very real. Honey Cake celebrates child bravery and pays tribute to the courageous efforts of individuals, groups, and nations who insisted on humanity, despite all. No doubt, history would have branded differently, less shameful indeed, had more faces and nations rallied for civility and justice.

Highly Recommended.

Danya David is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature program at University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.