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Stories children are unlikely to forget

If you had ever asked my father about his military service in World War II, chances are you'd have heard two stories I grew to know well. Trained as a paratrooper, he ended up serving in the occupation of Germany. He was not prone to talking extensively about that time, though he was happy to if asked. And when he did, he brought up stories that, like so many from periods of crisis, recounted the extraordinary actions of ordinary people.

Telling these kinds of tales, especially to young people confronting a challenging moment in their nation's history, can help answer the now-familiar question: "What can I do?" Children's literature is replete with such narratives, after all; many of them biography, some of them turning on the heroics of a King Arthur or the cleverness of a Charlotte in saving her pig.

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And with good reason: Whatever the particulars, these encounters with ingenuity, bravery, or just quiet fortitude can leave a reader with the sense that, even in dark times, it's possible to shed light by action, however small it may be.

That's the kind of story that won recognition recently at the United Nations for author Carmen Agra Deedy. Her children's book centers on King Christian X of Denmark. Even under the pressure of the Nazi occupation of his country, he set an example with his courage, including his support for Jews.

Ms. Deedy, whose interview with Marjorie Coeyman is on page 16, says parts of the story have never been firmly verified, though they're widely believed. It's all the more evidence, she says, of our need to know of those who will "stand up and fight." It may explain as well why firefighter and police costumes are popular for Halloween this year. They're visible reminders of stories children are unlikely to forget.

E-mail newcomba@csmonitor.com.