Honey Cake, by Joan Betty Stuchner, illustrated by Cynthia Nugent

It surprises me not at all that the book is on sale.

I am surrounded by work of various kinds – a kitchen full of dishes, papers upon papers to read about dementia and ageing, a basket full of laundry, and knitting projects galore.  I slogged through some of it when an email popped up that reminded me that, once again, it’s time to review a book.

Since I’m taking a break from the daily grind to write this review, it is only fair that the review also feel like work.  So instead of reviewing any of the many books I have had eagerly waiting to be reviewed, I am going to review Honey Cake.

So, first things first: there’s nothing terribly wrong with Honey Cake.  But, there’s nothing all that exciting about it, either (other than the recipe for honey cake at the end of the book, which would only excite some of you).

Honey Cake is about David Nathan, a Danish boy living in Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation.  The book starts a handful of years into the occupation.  David remember when he and his best friend Elsa Jensen were “very young” and didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation.  Their innocence is quickly shattered when David finds out over only a handful of pages that his sister is a member of the Danish Resistance, that his father may be using his boxes of baked goods to transport secret messages, and that, on Rosh Hoshanah, the Nazis intend to deport all of the Danish Jews, including David’s family.  This last item is a big shock to David – it means leaving Denmark, and all of things that are familiar and loved.

There are a lot of other details of things that David will miss from home, things that he is leaving behind, his mother’s honey cake, his father’s bakery, his sister, their house, the train set in the Jensen Toystore window.  There is, of course, the narrow escape on the Danish coastline to Sweden, the loyal and kind Jensen family, and the quick-witted children who save the day (kind of).  And the whole book is ended with a recipe for honey cake and an Afterword summarizing the story of the Danish Jews during the Holocaust.

The thing is, it’s already been done.

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry, was published almost twenty years before Honey Cake.  And where Honey Cake is a neat little history lesson with a touch of personal flavour and just a soupçon of thrill, Number the Stars was heart-achingly good.

In Number the Stars, the grief, due to the absence of people who have joined the Resistance or been killed because of it, is palpable.  The fear and hate of the occupying forces is real.  The Nazi hatred of the Danish Jews is fierce.  Honey Cake mentions these emotions, but David never really seems to feel them.  I mean, his older sister chooses to stay behind and fight in the Resistance and David’s sole reaction is to swallow the lump in his throat and say to himself, “Rachel was very brave.  We’d have to be brave too.”  Alrighty, Mr. Cavalier, let’s just get on with the story and turn the page, then!

I like the illustrations well enough, but didn’t find them mind-blowing.  They are pen-and-paper, which is a style I usually like, but I just couldn’t get into them.  Cynthia Nugent travelled to Copenhagen to research for this book, and all I can feel is envy.  There are only four or so illustrations that seem to show any kind of architecture that would require that sort of research.  Perhaps she was looking to see what Danish people look like.  According to her illustrations, they are predominantly tall and fair-haired, with the complete exception of the Jews.  Every last Jewish person in the book as dark brown hair and eyes (or grey hair).  Maybe this stereotype runs true – in Copenhagen – who knows?  Let’s just say that it makes me uncomfortable that a book that is trying to make a lesson out of bravery in the face of racism would be illustrated to show children that all Danes are blond and blue and, in contrast, all Jews are dark.

Reading Ages: 8-10.  It’s not a long book and it’s simply written.  There are illustrations on almost every page/two pages.

Rating: D for Dull.

Is the Honey Cake recipe any good?:  I don’t know because I have to return the book to the library and I can’t be bothered to renew it just to try a recipe.

Do I feel good about having skipped all of my other tasks to write this review?:  No, not particularly.  Writing the review was as punishing as reading about dementia and ageing or doing laundry.  I guess it was just a lose-lose kind of day.

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