After a couple trips to Norway, Wisconsin writer Sandy Brehl knew she wanted to write a story about the Nazi's occupation of the country.
"I was sure that Norway had been neutral, the way Sweden was or Switzerland was, and it turns out that wasn't the case at all. And their stories just were so embedded with national pride and resilience and humor," says Brehl. "The humor particularly struck me, and I came away knowing that I'd want to write those stories."
It took her a while to find the right way to tell that story and figure out the right audience. That journey culminated in Odin's Promise, her first novel for middle grade readers. It told the story of a young girl, coming of age in Norway during the German occupation in World War II.
"She's living in the same village, in Ytra Arna, which is a tiny, little district village on the back side of the mountains near Bergen. And that's kind of metaphorical for her life. It's been a very sheltered, protected life," says Brehl. "She's 10 years younger than her older siblings."
At its heart, the lesson learned by Mari, the young protagonist, is a timeless one: She’s stronger than she thinks she is. The book has now spawned a sequel called, Bjorn's Gift. In it, Mari turns 12 years old as the occupation evolves in her tiny, mountain town.
"Early in the first book, her neighbor from right across the road, a Jewish man, is arrested in front of her eyes. And that is a minor theme in the first book," Brehl explains. "And the Germans, also, have come in claiming to be Aryan brothers, Viking brothers, one spirit, one people. They were there to protect them from the Allies. And by the second book that facade is dropping away and they are... clearly occupiers, and they're clearly frustrated that not many people are buying their pitch."