Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X: A Review

THE YELLOW STAR: THE LEGEND OF KING CHRISTIAN X OF DENMARK: by Carmen Agra Deedy, Illustrated by Henri Sorensen

Deedy, C. (2000).  The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark. Peachtree Publishers, Atlanta.

The Yellow Star has as a subtitle The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark because the story of the Danish King's act of defiance against Nazi tyranny is just that: a legend.  It is a story that has been told often but which has no historic basis.  It's an apocryphal story but despite that, The Yellow Star's purpose was not to be historically accurate in that respect.  The overlying message about the importance of personal courage and the truth about the commonality of individuals is what mattered most.

King Christian X is beloved by the Danes.  He rides on his horse through the streets of the capital, Copenhagen, without armed escort.  This astounds foreigners but they are told that all Danes would guard their monarch. 

However, Denmark has fallen under the Nazi reign of terror.  They first decide to install the Nazi flag above the palace.  His Majesty orders it taken down.  When told by the Nazi official that if any soldier the King sends takes it down, that soldier will be shot, His Majesty replies that they better be prepared to execute King Christian X, for HE will be said soldier. 

The Nazi flag never flew above the palace again.

This is a small victory, but a greater battle is coming.  The Nazis have ordered that all Danish Jews wear the yellow star that distinguishes them from their Gentile neighbors.  The King is worried: he does not want the Jewish Danes marked, but there is no way the Danish Army can take a stand.  While walking on the balcony and observing the stars, an idea comes to him.  Summoning the royal tailor, he instructs him to make a small alteration to the royal uniform.

The next day, His Majesty King Christian X of Denmark takes his daily ride...wearing a yellow Star of David upon his uniform.  The defiant Danes, following His Majesty's example, all wear the yellow star, Jew and Gentile alike.  They are all one people. 

Where I think The Yellow Star kind of missed the mark was at the actual climatic moment: when His Majesty took his traditional morning horse ride through Copenhagen after the edict requiring Jews to wear the Yellow Star.  Here is this great moment, in fact THE moment in The Yellow Star, and illustrator Sorensen all but hides the yellow star on His Majesty's uniform.  Yes, you can see it, but it is almost hidden by the horse's ear.  Furthermore, the King is seen almost at a distance, while his people take a gander at their king and his new threads.

I wonder, was that a deliberate decision on both Sorensen and Deedy's part?  The text itself doesn't specifically state that the King wore a yellow star through the streets of Copenhagen.  It just remarks on his "courage and defiance" and how he was dressed in "his finest clothing".  Maybe the point wasn't to draw attention to it.  Maybe we as the reader are suppose to get just enough information without having it put up front. 

However, since the entire point of The Yellow Star is to discuss the legendary (and in all likelihood, false) story of the King who defied the Nazis, I do wonder why the most pivotal moment in the book was given a bit of a short-shrift.

However, the actual book is quite good.  It is targeted towards children, and it is both respectful of the Holocaust without having to go into detail about the true horror of the Shoah.   We see this when in the story, the Danes are reflecting on the "terrible stories" about Jews in other countries.  It is the only section where instead of vibrant colors, we get sepia tones.  This panel also shows other barbarisms, like Kristallnacht, without making comment on it. 

I think children will draw what information is required (the Jews were brutalized during this time), but the writer and illustrator were right in holding back the more gruesome aspects.  First, such information is really too brutal for children.  Second, the story itself doesn't focus on the Holocaust itself, but on the actions of the Danish people and in particular their King, during the war.

The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, is a well-written story, with simple words that children will understand.  It has some beautiful illustrations and tells its story simply, directly, with just enough detail to trust the reader to understand the wrongness of the Nazi action and the courage of both the Danes and their monarch.   

Carmen Agra Deedy

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