Wednesday, August 20, 2014

INTERVIEW WITH BARBARA KRASNER

In my last post, I introduced a terrific picture book, GOLDIE TAKES A STAND: Golda Meier's First Crusade.

I've learned to know Author, Barbara Krasner through numerous Highlights Foundation Workshops. Barbara is a poet with a gift for writing story in verse. 
I appreciate her quiet spirit and her astonishing work ethic. This lady has a load of irons in the fire and she's already published three history books. And now for a few questions.

Barbara, this one little story from Golda Meir’s life is so revealing of her personality and leadership skills. But there must have been so many Golda stories you could have told. I’m curious about how you chose to highlight this story and this age.  Oh and how old was Golda when this story takes place?

In her autobiography, Golda didn't dwell on her childhood. I chose this particular story because it took place in Milwaukee and I wondered how many people knew she had lived in the United States. Golda was in the fourth grade at the Fourth Street School when she staged the fundraiser.

I certainly didn't know she lived in the U.S. so yes, that was one of the things I found enlightening. How long have you worked on this? What would you like to share about the publishing journey this picture book has been on?

I read the autobiography in August 2010 and wrote a draft in October that year, workshopping it in November at a Highlights Foundation picture book workshop with Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann. I revised, revised, revised and pitched it to several publishers in April 2012. Joni Sussman of Kar-Ben offered me publication in June 2012. Some of the rejections I received mentioned (and didn't like) the use of first person. I admit it's unusual for a picture book, but Goldie demanded it. Her voice was so strong.

I agree.  Golda's voice is what I love about your story. Are you by chance working on any other versions of her life-maybe a longer version? 

No, I'm not.

:(  Well, that makes me a little sad. But I know you've got lots of other writing projects going on. Can you tell us about some of them? 

How much room do you have on this blog? I consider myself a history writer and am working on some picture book biographies, a Holocaust-related middle-grade narrative, Holocaust-related short stories for adults, and historical poetry for adults. 

I have a couple of YA historical novels (one in 1919 Poland and one in 1914 Newark, NJ) I'd like to market and I've been asked to write two Holocaust-related YA novels. 


I have a Holocaust picture book, Liesl's Ocean Rescue, coming out soon from Gihon River Press, a niche Holocaust publisher.
 

As I said, lots of irons in the fire. Congratulations on the second picture book.  I'm eager to read that, too.  (And would love to review it, here, of course!) Oh and I must note that you've already published three history books.  
Barb speaking at her high school Alma Mater in Kearny, NJ.
Please tell us a bit about your blog, The Whole Megillah and also about your other publishing/editing pursuits.

I began The Whole Megillah in May 2010 as a service to Jewish children's writers. In the spring of 2012, I expanded it to include writers of Jewish memoir, fiction, and poetry. On the blog, which I refuse to monetize, I feature interviews and agents, editors, authors, illustrators, and publicists as well as book reviews. I also offer contests, such as the semi-annual Picture Book Contest, judged usually by Joni Sussman at Kar-Ben. 

Under the umbrella of The Whole Megillah and for Highlights Foundation, I also organize and run workshops and conferences, such as the 2014 Seminar on Jewish Story that took place in May at Temple Emanu-El in New York City. 


I received the first annual Groner/Wikler Scholarship at the June 2014 Association of Jewish Libraries conference for dedication to Jewish children's literature. I work with authors of memoir and fiction to develop their manuscripts. My overall mission is to nurture Jewish writing.


Observing from the outside, so to speak, you seem to be doing that most effectively. Barb, I look forward to watching all your efforts emerge into finished projects. Although, I realize you'll never be finished because you'll always have quite a few more in the works! 

Thanks so much for joining me here. It's been a joy to host you and to read and introduce Goldie Takes A Stand.

More convo with Barb at Rosi Hollinbeck's blog.

And friends, don't forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of the book.  If you commented on the previous post you'll get two chances. It's a great one for home or classroom.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

GOLDIE TAKES A STAND: Golda Meir's First Crusade

In this fictionalized picture book biography, Barbara Krasner focuses on one incident in the childhood of Golda Meir. In doing so, she portrays a born leader with a compassionate heart. 


"It was the first meeting of the American Young Sisters Society, a group of Jewish immigrants from Russia. I, Goldie Mabowehz naturally appointed myself president."

Goldie is one confident young lady. She has a plan and knows how to motivate her friends to cooperate. But - she's not all about herself. 

As president of the newly formed American Young Sisters Society (Goldie, her sister, and some friends) this young lady gets right to work solving problems and taking care of people. She's concerned that some of the students in her school cannot afford textbooks. So she comes up with a plan to collect money. And when that plan doesn't work out as she hoped, Goldie digs a bit deeper to come up with plan B. When Plan B is overwhelmingly successful, Goldie doesn't sit back and congratulate herself. No indeed she comes up with a new venture. And naturally she names herself president of that group too. 

I love how this book reveals leadership, compassion, and community organization skills - precisely the traits that eventually made Golda Meir qualified to be the Prime Minister of Israel. Goldie Takes a Stand shows us a take-charge person who faces normal fears without letting them hold her back. Having met Goldie in this book I realize I would love to read My Life., the autobiography that inspired Barbara Krasner to write this story. 

Barbara blogs at The Whole Megillah where she focuses on Jewish authors, agents, and editors.  She also reviews books of Jewish interest and serves on the Sydney Taylor Award committee which honors books for young people that authentically portray the Jewish experience. She teaches workshops for Highlights Foundation and she researches and writes prolifically. 

In my next post, you and I will enjoy an interview with her.

Barbara is giving away a copy of Goldie Takes a Stand (softcover). Enter with a comment. And if you leave a comment on both this post and the interview, you'll be entered twice.

Monday, July 28, 2014

THE BADGER KNIGHT by Kathryn Erskine

I can't say that I'm particularly interested in Medieval history but I love an author who has done enough research to make me feel as though I'm living in that time and going on adventures with a character I care about. In this case the author is Kathy Erskine and the character is Adrian Black. 


"I'm almost thirteen...and still as puny, sickly and as pale as milk.  A few people say being tiny and white as an angel is a good omen, but far more say I'm evil,that I was the cause of that plague and that they see the devil in my eyes. If they do, I didn't put him there. I'm no devil.  Nor am I a tiny angel. Underneath my odd looking outside, I'm just me, Adrian. A boy - well almost a man. They'll see.

Adrian doesn't get much respect in his English village. He's motherless. He's bullied, but feisty and he's excellent with a bow and arrow. The Scots are about to invade England and the men of the village are preparing to go to battle. No one thinks Adrian is capable of fighting so he will be left behind.

Or not. 

After the men leave, Adrian waits for his opportunity and sneaks away from the village to join the battle. Thus begins an adventure in which he runs into one bad character and one mishap after another. But Adrian is as clever as he is feisty and his quick mind, his lying tongue, and masterful archery skills rescue him from countless events.

He does eventually arrive at the battlefield where his romanticized notions of war are quickly dashed as are his notions about the enemy. Here are a few of Adrian's conclusions.

  • "It's hard to hate a man who has a name and a son."
  • "I don't even know who won the battle, although I think it's us. Still, I wonder how anyone can rejoice when so many have died."
  • I'm the Badger, tough and scrappy. I'm the Spider, small but determined.  Mostly I'm someone useful from the village of Ashcroft. My name is Adrian Black, and I am a man.

  • The book ends with Adrian planning to take care of some unfinished business so I'm guessing there's a sequel on the way. Readers who love action, adventure and a scrappy character will be glad of it.

    Kathy Erskine is the author of Quaking, Mockingbird, The Absolute Value of Mike, and Seeing Red.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

    ESCAPE TO EAST GERMANY

    Crazy title, I know. But it's how I've been feeling lately.

    Full Disclosure: I drove down my rural road to take this photo of barbed wire. 
    I want to go to a communist country enclosed by barbed wire. A republic you could be shot or imprisoned for trying to leave. A place that was riddled with secret police and neighbors who might rat on you if you dared to speak against the socialist party.

    I have loved ones in this place. They are my characters. I want to be with them. But sometimes my life interferes. Even other peoples' lives interfere. 

    And in some ways, that's the hard part. My life, I can mostly handle. But with a hubby in ministry I end up feeling the pain of a lot of other people. Lately I've been getting that feeling - not Calgon take me away, but I just want to escape to East Germany.

    And then I stop myself and say, "That's no joke. What you're going through doesn't compare."

    But the more I think about it the more I realize that, at some level, it's true.  And it's okay if I feel that way. I don't literally want to live in a communist country. Of course I don't. But I remind myself of several things. 

    It was hard there. But it wasn't all bad. People had families who loved them. They had school and community picnics, and free transportation and jobs. They had outdoor play and sports and art and trips to the beach.

    I live in this amazing place called the United States. I have freedom to travel to nearly any place in the world. I have green space around me - a backyard with a water feature and a garden with okra, sweet corn and ripe tomatoes. But being in the United States does not mean living in Utopia.
    Evil exists here too. Some people endure horrendous things that I can't comprehend. We all know this. We see it on the news. We hear about it at work or maybe we witness it first hand.  

    Sometimes, to be honest with you, I don't want to hear one more story of drug overdoses, murder, war, or abuse. It would be easy to look the other way. To grow hard. To let myself not care. 

    Instead I retreat for awhile - to fiction. I always thought I wrote stories to be heard. To be understood and to process what I don't understand. But lately, I've realized I also write to escape. 

    Wherever my characters are; that's where I want to be - holding their hands. Listening to their stories. I can't change people in the real world.  But there's a chance I can help my characters make good choices. I might not be able to give them a happy ever after but I can give them hope.  

    And the truth is Communist East Germany no longer exists. Because lots of people hoped for something better and acted on their dreams, including my characters.

    "Between stimulus and response there is a space. 
    In that space is our power to choose our response.
    In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
    Viktor E. Frankl



    Tuesday, June 24, 2014

    AUDIO BOOKS, PAINTING, & WEEDS

    Last summer I started painting the trim on our garden shed but, before I could finish, the rains came (every day for the rest of the summer, it seems) and I lost momentum. 

    I really need to get that finished so I checked two audio books out of the library yesterday.  Audio books are my companions while I paint, scrub, or pull weeds and sometimes while driving on a long trip by myself.

    I just finished listening to The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.


    I'd heard much about it and figured I'd need a box of tissues to get me through. I did like the book. I especially enjoyed paying attention to how Green developed the relationship between the two teens. Maybe my mind was on the mechanics of his writing and storytelling because I did not cry. But I also wonder if listening made the difference. Would I have entered the story in a different way if I'd been reading? I haven't really analyzed whether listening makes a difference for me.

    Either way, the book got me out of my computer chair and through some hot, dirty gardening and yard clean up. And yes, the story gave me lots to ponder on the meaning of life, how it might feel to know one is dying, and also how we respond to people who are ill. I do resonate with these themes.  Why else would I write about polio,disability, and leprosy

    Audio Book Bonus:  There's a cool interview with Green on his audio. It's hard not to like that guy! 

    Now, I'm counting on getting lots of work done while listening to Forge by Laurie Halse Andersen



    and Hokey Pokey  by Jerry Spinelli.


    By the time I'm through  these two audio books I hope to have painted the deck & some lawn furniture, and to have weeded quite a few veggie and flower gardens. 

    And, oh yeah, the garden shed needs to be finished. I have a feeling I'll leave it for last on account of -you know - ladders and cobwebs. Or rain.

    Question: How do you feel about listening versus reading?

    Wednesday, March 19, 2014

    THE ISLAND ON BIRD STREET

    Lately I'm on a Warsaw Ghetto streak. This important story has been told in a variety ways. Emily Smith Pearce (one of my author friends), just clued me in to a movie on this, THE ISLAND ON BIRD STREET.  Now I need to see it. Here's the trailer.

    Saturday, March 8, 2014

    CHILD OF THE WARSAW GHETTO


     CHILD OF THE WARSAW GHETTO is a biographical picture book about Froim Baum’s Holocaust experience. Froim, the youngest of 7 children, was born to a Jewish tailor and his wife in Warsaw, Poland. The family struggled for survival before Germany invaded Poland.  But their sorrow intensified in 1939 when the Nazis arrived.

    First the Germans imposed anti-Jewish laws, singling them out for humiliation and making it impossible to earn a living.Then they herded the Jews into a 70 street section of Warsaw which they surrounded with a wall topped by barbed wire. They denied the residents of this ghetto adequate food, fuel and clothing. Starvation, abuse and death ensued. With time, the Nazis removed the Jews.  Froim and his brothers were sent to a concentration camp where he narrowly escaped the gas chamber.

    Back at the Jewish Ghetto, a secret group of Jews fought against the Germans for several weeks but were eventually overcome.

    Froim was eventually freed by the Allied Armies. He shared his story with David Adler who wrote this book. The book is magnificently illustrated with muted pencil sketches by Karen Ritz.  The pictures are appropriately somber but contain just enough color to appeal to younger readers.

    This book is similar to THE WAR WITHIN THESE WALLS in that it tells the Warsaw Ghetto experience. But it differs in intensity. In THE WAR WITHIN THESE WALLS we see the story up close and personal – focusing in on specific horrors. CHILD OF THE WARSAW GHETTO gives us a broader view and is not as graphic as books for older readers.

    If you wish to read books with similar stories, I can't say enough good things about MILKWEED by Jerry Spinelli which also takes place in the Warsaw Ghetto and.Jennifer Roy's YELLOW STAR, a free verse novel about the Jewish Ghetto in Lodz, Poland.

    Also on this topic, a few books I have yet to read:  IRENA SENDLER AND THE CHILDREN OF THE WARSAW GHETTO by Susan Goldman Rubin and JANUSZ KORCZAK'S CHILDREN by Gloria Spielman.  There are more, of course. So many heartbreaking but also inspiring stories...

    Sunday, February 16, 2014

    SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARD BLOG TOUR

    Today is the kick-off for the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour.

    THE WAR WITHIN THESE WALLS won an Honor Award in the Teen Reader category.  My sincere congratulations and gratitude to three outstanding storytellers involved with this book, Author, Aline Sax, Illustrator, Caryl Strzelecki, and Translator, Laura Watkinson. 

    I reviewed the book here but just a quick note that this story takes place in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto in the early 1940s.  It culminates in four weeks of fighting between 750 Jewish fighters and 2,000 Nazi soldiers.
    Author, Aline Sax
    Photo: (c) Koen Broos
    And now, welcome to Author Aline Sax!   First let me say, you have written a powerful story and created a character whose emotions carried me throughout.  I wanted so much for Misha to win over this dreadful history.

    In your story, the real life character, Mordecai Anielewicz motivated the resistance fighters with the words "We are going to shake our people awake.  The eyes of the world will be upon us." In reality the Jewish resistance is not as well known as many holocaust stories.  Did word of the resistance make it into the press in 1943? 
    It’s hard to reconstruct exactly who knew about the uprising and when they heard about it. Of course the citizens of Warsaw knew, and the Polish resistance knew even beforehand. But little assistance was given to the Jewish resistance fighters, before and during the uprising. The Allied Powers knew what was going on with the Jews in Europe (although not to what extend!), but they didn’t react. Why not, is a complex question I won’t go into here.

    How did you hear about it? Can you tell us how The War Within These Walls developed within you? In Belgium, the story of the uprising is rather unknown. I heard about it when I studied in Berlin. I took a course on ‘Poles, Germans and Jews during the Second World War’ where the subject came up. I started to investigate the matter more thoroughly and became fascinated by the courage of these young man and women and their decision not to wait and see, but to fight back, against all odds. I began wondering how life in the ghetto must have been, how terrible the situation must have been, how hopeless you must feel to make such a decision. And yet how brave … And that is how Misja’s story started to grow inside my head. The more I researched, the more I became convinced I had to tell this story. In Belgium, we only hear the stories of the round-ups, the camps, the gas chambers, the death marches, … Young people think of the Jews as lambs being led to the slaughter, passively packing up their stuff and boarding the trains. But story of the uprising shows they were not all that passive. They did resist, they did raise their voice, hoping to be heard, they did not accept what was happening but protested against the injustice being inflicted upon them. I think it’s important to tell this part of history as well.
      
    I agree and I'm so glad you've done that. Please share how the book developed on paper and into print.   It took a few years to finish the book … All was set in motion when Caryl, the illustrator, came up to me and asked me if we could make a book together about Poland during the Second World War. I was immediately interested. The moment he said ‘Poland’ and ‘Second World War’, I remembered my research on  the Warsaw ghetto uprising. I picked up the thread again and started to investigate further into daily life in the ghetto. I developed the story and shared it with Caryl. He started drawing and I started writing. It was not clear right away how we would combine text and illustrations. I’m a novel writer, so I didn’t feel comfortable writing in balloons. Nevertheless, I felt this was not yet another novel, the story had to be told in verse-like sentences. It would have a bigger impact. It was not a rational decision. The story just unfolded in this rhythm. Caryl made a lot of drawings, which he showed me often. When the whole story was finished and Caryl had made more than a hundred illustrations, choices had to be made regarding which illustrations would make into the book and where.  We got great help from the publisher’s graphic designer. Finding a publisher wasn’t hard at all. When we showed Marita, from De Eenhoorn (a Belgian publishing house renowned for its picture books and beautiful graphic design) a few texts and some illustrations, the story struck her, just as it had struck me and she was immediately enthusiastic about our plans.

    I love hearing how all this unfolded as though it were meant to be. The design is beautiful even though the story is stark, sometimes gruesome, and filled with sorrow and anger.  Researching and writing it must have been emotionally exhausting.  Can you share how this story affected you and how you sustained yourself during its process?   The War Within These Walls is not my first book about the Holocaust. I also wrote De laatste reis (The last journey), a book for children of 10 years and older. The story is about a girl and her mother being deported to Auschwitz. It is nevertheless emotionally hard to research and write on such a topic. I can search for sources and literature as an historian, unattached and with a scientific attitude, but when I start to write, I have to get in the shoes of my main character. I have to think like him, feel like him. I have to become him in order to create a realistic character and a gripping story. That could be numbing sometimes. Maybe that’s the reason why the prose is so sparse. I was as numbed as Misja, describing what he saw, what he went through.

    You portrayed his changing feelings in such a believable manner.  Horror, anger, defiance, despair and eventually back to motivating anger and even hope. Thank you, Aline for your emotional investment so that we could feel Misha's emotions too.

    Illustrator, Caryl Strzelecki
    Illustrator, Caryl Strzelecki


    Hello, Caryl.  The first thing I noticed about the book was the black and white cover.  And of course all illustrations are black and white also.  While reading, I yearned for color. However, not finding it took me deeper into Misha's desolate experience.  Did you consider including color? How did you decide?

    It's a very good question… that I need to be able to answer.

    Of course, you may not know this but at first the drawings were all made in color. It was a tough decision to make (The decision making process is never easy). All the first drawings were very large drawings, more illustrations than capturing the real story told by Aline. But they all were rejected by the publisher. So I had to do it all over again. Somehow, in this whole process, I became more and more mentally and emotionally aware, that this immense dark story didn’t need any color. So in reality it was a ‘work-in-progress decision’.  I am happy with the result.  (Here are some of the color illustrations that were never used.)

    Oh my - starting all over - book making is tough business. But your collaboration paid off!  Did you choose the tall, narrow size and shape or did the design department decide on this?  I'm glad to say that the publisher asked us both, Aline and me, about the size of the book, if we had any suggestions. and we all agreed on it that it had to be a book that could easily be held in your hands. But our Belgium publisher in particular, DE Eenhoorn, is well-known for making beautiful books.

    I asked Aline Sax about her emotional journey as she wrote this story.  Can you talk about how you experienced this story and especially how you sustained yourself as you illustrated it?
    I would lie to you if I said everyday was a struggle. But we did work for at least 4 years on it. It was therefore, at some moments, a difficult journey. But I found some help in thinking about my Polish father, who did survive 4 years of labor camp (Zwangsarbeit) in World War2, in Germany. I knew it would made him very proud if I would succeed. Afterwards, when seeing the result, you easily forget all the hard work you put in it.

    It's impossible to be emotionally involved all the time and also to concentrate on your work. But there were times I really was depressed. I had to go through all the awful photos of dead innocent children, older people… just ordinary people all going to die and many already dead …  you couldn't help asking yourself ‘why?’…

    I am sorry for your father's experience.  No wonder you were motivated.  I know he would be so proud of you. 

    Which was the most difficult illustration for you to create?  Why? At some point there was a picture of a dying woman that I failed totally  in capturing on paper! The woman looked me straight into the eyes, 70 years later. At that moment I felt uneasy and guilty in my drawing room. I felt really like a vulture looking at all those dead bodies; It was strange and upsetting. I talked about it with Aline. She helped me to overcome it. She made me realize that I had to put my personal feelings aside.  It also really motivated me and made me determined to do my job as well as possible. (But the drawing of the dying woman we never used.)

    Thank you Caryl for sharing this woman with us and for all the illustrations. Each is a profound story in itself.

    Translator: Laura Watkinson
    Translator:  Laura Watkinson

    Hi Laura.  I see that you translate into English from Dutch, German, and Italian. How terrific that we English readers have access to fine European books because of your efforts. How did you settle on a career in book translation?  I’ve always enjoyed learning languages and reading books, so the idea of a career in translation appealed to me from an early age. I was very aware of translation as a career option and, as I moved to different countries to teach English, more translation work began to slip into my portfolio. It really is the perfect portable career. I enjoy being involved in a story on that very intimate level and I appreciate the challenge of solving the tricky translation problems that arise.

    Tricky translation problems -  I can imagine them. Can you tell us a bit about the process you use when translating a book?  I read the book first to get an overview of the story, and then I start translating. The first pass is usually quite rough, as I’m still finding my way around. Then, with each subsequent pass, I polish the text and play with different options. When the text is in a fairly decent shape, I might ask around for second opinions. I’m lucky that I know a lot of other translators, so there’s always someone to talk to about books and words, and lots of great places to do that in Amsterdam over a nice cup of coffee.

    This sounds much like writing - even the fact that you have a community of translators around you. I also know that you started SCBWI in the Netherlands.  So obviously, community is important to you. What is the most gratifying part about translating a story from one language into another?   I know how frustrating it can be when you hear about a great book, but you can’t read it because you don’t have the necessary language skills. Or when you see the fabulous illustrations in a book like The War within These Walls and you’re intrigued and want to find out more, but it’s in a language you don’t speak. What’s really gratifying about conveying a great story from one language into another is that you open it up to so many more people. More than that, you also connect different cultures and help to build a route into a country’s literature, which may enable people to gain a better understanding of other cultures and countries. That can only be a good thing.

    I like that idea of building a route into a country's literature. You said, in another interview, that it's important for you to like a book in order to translate it. How did you decide to take on The War Between The Walls?   I have great respect for Eerdmans Books for Younger Readers and for my editor there, Kathleen Merz. I think they have an excellent eye for outstanding children’s literature from all over the world. So when they approached me with this text, I was already predisposed to take it on. I’m a big fan of graphic novels and the unusual design and Caryl Strzelecki’s striking illustrations also attracted me from the outset. I knew that I really wanted to work on this book when I started translating Aline Sax’s words in my head as I was reading the story for the first time, and found myself pondering some of the trickier points. The poetic aspect of the text appealed to me, too.

    I was also very aware of the responsibility of conveying this important story to young English-speaking readers, and capturing the sense and tone of Aline’s writing. It is, of course, a tragic story and a hard one to tell, but it’s our recent history and it’s a tale that needs to be told.

    I’m grateful that I had a chance to be part of the process, and I’m so pleased that the book has been recognized by the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

    I'm pleased too. This book is truly deserving and I'm grateful to each of you for your part in bringing this lesser known history to me and to many others.  Thank you for investing so much time and emotional energy into Misha's story - and the story of those he fought for.  

    I wish you all much continued success. Congrats again and thank you for stopping by.

    Readers, thank you for stopping in too, and do check out all the winners and their interviews over at the Association of Jewish Libraries blog.

    Friday, February 14, 2014

    THE WAR WITHIN THESE WALLS by Aline Sax

    First Lines:

    "It was September 1939 when the Germans invaded  our country.  A month later, they marched into Warsaw and took up residence as if they would never leave."

    Indeed the Germans stayed and the war against the Jews began. In THE WAR WITHIN THESE WALLS, Misha, a fictional Jewish teen tells a true story of harassment, humiliation, and unimaginable abuse. This story takes place in a section of Warsaw, Poland known as the Jewish Ghetto. The Nazi's herd Jews by the thousands into one section of the city.  Private homes are overrun with strangers forced to inhabit the same space. The Nazi's build a ten foot high wall around the ghetto, and top it with barbed wire and shards of glass.

    At first, in order to survive, Misha is tempted to deny his Jewish identity.  But then we see him go through a range of emotions - the overwhelming one being defiance. He determines not to be defeated and finds a way to slip out of the ghetto, steal food, and slip back in.  He does this regularly until he sees the dreadful consequences for others who are doing the same thing.  After that, he holds back and as even more terrible events unfold, he loses hope and the will to fight.

    Time passes and deportations begin as the Nazis begin loading the Jews onto trains.  Misha wants to believe rumors that the Jews  are being sent to the countryside.  But rumors of death camps spread also and the reality is too obvious, too stark, too horrendous. At his moment of lowest despair, Misha meets Mordechai Anielewicz and everything changes.

    Anielewicz tells Misha that not all Jews are bowing to the Germans. Some are secretly, actively working against them. He invites Misha to join the fight against the Nazis. Finally Misha has a place to direct his anger. He joins the secret resistance movement, learning how to stockpile weapons and how to use them when the time is right. Eventually in early 1943 the time for confrontation arrives. 

    Mordechai inspires the fighters with these words. "We are going to shake our people awake.  The eyes of the world will be on us." 

    For four weeks Misha and more than seven hundred other Jews put up a powerful fight. In the end, however, the Nazis overpower them. Mordechai and other leaders are killed. The world does not intervene. Somehow, Misha survives to tell the story. 

    Aline Sax tells this story in sparse, lyrical language and with brutal honesty.  She gives us a character - many characters - to really care about. The reader cannot help but feel anger, remorse, and despair with Misha. Caryl Strzelecki's stark black and white illustrations - some complex and others simple and iconic - add to the raw power of the story.

    The book was originally published in Dutch by De Eenhoorn, a Belgian publisher.  Eerdmans published the English version and Laura Watkinson translated it.

    Watkinson did a masterful job and the book won the Batchelder Honor Award given by American Library Association for a book published in another language and translated into English. It also won The Sydney Taylor Honor Award for Teen Readers.

    The Sydney Taylor Book Awards recognize outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. For several years now I've participated in the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour which offers interviews with winning authors and illustrators.  I'm especially fortunate this year because I have three thoughtful and talented people to interview - Author, Aline Sax, Illustrator, Caryl Strzelecki, and Translator, Laura Watkinson. Watch for those interviews here on Sunday, February 16.

    And do check out the complete Sydney Taylor Blog Tour here. It's a great place to discover excellent literature and the gifted storytellers who create it.

    Thursday, February 13, 2014

    HEALING WATER: We have a winner!

    Random.org, I mean - uh, my husband picked a number. And...

    Peggy Reiff Miller, just won a copy of  
    Healing Water: An Hawaiian Story!
    Congratulations, Peggy!


    From the flyleaf:   

    Thirteen year-old Pia has never known his real father. But Kamaka, a family friend, has taught him how to work, explore, and take on physical challenges.Pia believes Kamaka is fearless. He never suspects that a time will come when Kamaka could actually be afraid of him. Neither does he expect his own body to betray him, or his government to tear him from his family and send him into exile.

    When Pia finds himself abandoned on Molokai, Hawaii's leprosy settlement, he turns to the skills he learned from Kamaka to help him survive. But the conditions are harsh. Pia discovers he must choose between anger and aloha, revenge and forgiveness, his own wilfulness and the example of someone worthy of being like a father.

    This fictional account was inspired by the experiences of many Hawaiians who were sent to Molokai's isolated Kalaupapa Peninsula, starting in 1866 and by the life of Father Damien deVeuster, who chose to live and work there in the late 1800s.

    Here's the trailer.

    Meanwhile, over at Joan Edwards' blog, someone else won a copy of Healing Water!

    Wednesday, January 29, 2014

    WITH ALOHA: Healing Water Book Giveaway

    Joan Edwards of NEVER GIVE UP interviewed me in her Authors I Admire series. Yay! To celebrate, I'm giving away a copy of Healing Water at her blog.  Healing Water is my historical novel set in Hawaii's leprosy settlement.  

    Here's a look at the book via a short trailer.

    Yes, it starts out sad.  Yes, it's tragic in the middle.

    But, YES, there is hope and community and God's footprint throughout.  So go on over to Joan's blog and join the giveaway.

    Oh, wait - before you go - I've decided to double your chances of winning by offering one here too.  Enter by including the word ALOHA in your comment below.

    I apologize in advance that this giveaway doesn't include a trip to Hawaii. But reading is one way to get there...



    Thursday, January 23, 2014

    REASEARCH: Ngram

    My work-in-progress takes place in 1917 so I want to write authentically for the time period.  Which means I don't want to use words that weren't in use then.

    Like, you know - Facebook.  Ha!  Okay so that's an easy one.  But there are other words that I really do have questions about. 

    And oh thank heaven for Google's Ngram. Until 2 days ago I didn't know such a thing existed but now, thanks to Facebook and my friend Eileen Heyes, I'm all over it!  Ngram is a site where I can look up a word, give a time period, and search for this word in books.  When I do, I'll get a graph showing the results. Here is the graph with results for the word "skeedaddle".  

    It's tiny, I know but I hope you can see that I typed  skeedaddle into the search window (just below the word Ngram viewer).  I also indicated what dates I was searching - 1800 - 2000.  (I have no idea what smoothing of 3 means. It was there and I didn't change it. More research for me!)

    But anyway at the bottom of the image you can see the dates and yay!  Skeedaddle comes up high on the charts for 1917 time frame.

    So my next move was to go to the bottom of the screen and click on the date I wanted to search.

     I clicked on 1895 - 1976 and voila! I got book titles with copyright dates listed.


    Then I could click on one of those books and read the word in context.  I chose SIS WITHIN which was published in 1913.


    The word skeedaddle is highlighted so I can see how it was used in 1913. (At least in this story.)  Of course now that I'm there I can read other parts of the book  And who knows what other goodies I might discover in the process. 

    Okay - just wanted to share my little research discovery. Since I have more writing to do, I'm going to skeedaddle. Bye ya'll.

    Wednesday, January 15, 2014

    FLEEING SOLDIERS: A Hmong Child's Story

    We have many Hmong people living in our community. The following story by my friend, Memee Yang tells how she got here. The story is a bit longer than my usual blog post but not nearly as long as this child's journey.

    On a night in February 1978, my mother woke me and my siblings up and told us we had to leave because the communists had arrived. I remember my father was holding my two siblings’ hands. My mom carried my sister on her back and held my hand. She whispered that we must go to the jungle to hide and that no one was allowed to cry because the soldiers would hear us.  After a short period we met my grandparents and their family.  During our escape, I heard gunfire and bombs behind us. Not long after, we met some other families that I didn’t know.  All of us were traveling together by foot in the dark, because we were afraid that the communists would know where we were going.

    While we were in the jungle hiding, the head of the group came to all parents and told them they must keep their children from crying.  If the group was captured, the parents would be responsible for the others’ persecution. They were told to use opium for their children to keep them calm.  Even though my brother and sister were not crying, my mother still had to give them opium just to make sure we were safe. During the time we were hiding in the jungle, my mother woke them up to eat. I saw them eat only a little, then fall back to sleep.  After many days in the jungle everyone ran out of food. Therefore, my parents and many families with children decided to surrender. 


    My grandparents, aunts, and uncles decided to continue their journey to Thailand.  After we parted from each other, my parents took us back to where we could find refuge.  After we surrendered to the communists my younger brother Kao and sister Mai Tong were very sick. My sister was the first one to die in my family and then my brother died not long after.  


     After my siblings’ death, mom and dad took me and my brother, Pao back to the village where we used to live with my grandparents.  We walked for many days. Pao was very ill then but we had to continue walking to reach the village.  A few days after we reached the village, Pao died.  After a while my mom gave birth and had a baby girl.  She also died. Mom was very sad and attempted to commit suicide. But each time she went to the woods to kill herself I would follow her so she did not have any choice but to go back home with me.


    In late February 1980, when I was about 8 yrs old; my family wanted to escape again.  My father told me we couldn’t stay in the village because the communists were watching - trying to catch him.  Then one day, Mom said we were leaving to go to my grandparents.  We began our second journey to Thailand.  We traveled at night and the road was so narrow I could hardly see it.  On the way, we would see dead bodies on the side of the narrow road - adults, children and babies. 

    We climbed a very high mountain named “Phuv Npiab”. Many Hmong people had died on this mountain due to starvation and gun shots by the Vietnamese soldiers. One night my family had to rest there because the mountain was very steep. The leader led us to a cave to rest for the night. Inside the cave was very dark and it had a horrible smell. After sunrise, I saw dead bodies of Hmong peoples from babies to elderly piled on one another everywhere in that cave. 


    But for us to survive, we continued our journey to reach the Mekong River to cross to Thailand. 


    In early March 1980, two years after first leaving home, my family reached Thailand. We were placed in a refugee camp called Ban VaiNai. We lived in the refugee camp for a short time, because right after we arrived in Thailand, my grandparents submitted a sponsor petition for my father to have an interview.   Approximately four months later, my family had an interview with an American officer to come to the United States.  After the interview was done and we received approval for our deportation we came to Portland, Oregon in July 1980.


    Without God’s protection, I would have died a long time ago.  But because of His love he extended his hands to hold me from one place to another and has kept me alive today.  His love will never end. Whoever trusts and believes in him will not perish, but His light will shine upon his or her path.  May His name be praised forever and ever.


    View images from Ban Vinai camp in this Youtube clip.

    I, Joyce, am happy the Hmong are here because they're gentle, hardworking members of our community. Also because, when they helped us in the Vietnam War, our military promised them protection from the enemy. The U.S. did not fulfill all it's promises and after the communist victory, many Hmong fled for their lives through the jungles of Laos. If they made it to safety they often lived for long periods in Thailand's refugee camps. Memee Yang's story, could be repeated countless times.

    She will share her story in person at the next meeting of Sojourner Truth Book Club here in town.  The book we'll discuss is The Late Homecomer by Kao Kalia Yang.
    This gripping story will hold you like a novel.  But it's true and we need to know.

    Thursday, January 9, 2014

    Crazy over PINTEREST


    I'm trying to learn how to use Pinterest "Pin It" buttons on my blogposts which, to be honest, is making me a little crazy! I thought a piece of my crazy quilt would be a good photo to practice with. I sure hope this works.
     

    You can repin the image if you want to.  Go ahead.  Make my day!

    (And if it doesn't work, you'll understand why, in spite of watching two tutorials on how to do this, I am going a wee bit crazy!

    Actually if it doesn't work, I'll be back to fix it.

    Monday, January 6, 2014

    WRITER HEAVEN: A Highlights Workshop. Or Unworkshop

    I hope you've been lucky enough to have attended a Highlights workshop.  I've been to quite a few and turn green around the edges every time I hear that someone I know is attending one and I'm not.

    The Barn is the scene of all sorts of writing camaraderie, scrumptious food, and hands-on manuscript help.  I know.  I've been there and I always want to go back!

    I need this one-Writing For Boys - February 6 - 9 for my work-in-progress!  Follow the link for complete info.  Meanwhile here's a workshop description

    Rich Wallace, Lenore Look, and Chris Crutcher will help you delve deeply into your characters’ psyches, exploring their motivations, frustrations, and personalities to truly bring them to life on the page. Weaving action and humor into your stories will be a focal point of the program, which will explore the intricacies of creating fiction for boys.
    The workshop will include:

    • In-depth discussion of your work-in-progress;
    • Writing exercises designed to heighten the emotions and revelations of specific scenes;
    • Lectures on topics ranging from creating realistic dialogue to sharpening your plot.
    Go ahead and sign up.  Make me jealous.  I can handle it!

    And if you can't go to that one, maybe I'll bump into you at an Unworkshop - where for $ 99 a day you can write, eat well, and connect with other writers who happen to be doing the same thing.  Sounds like heaven on earth to me!
    I call dibs on the cabin with the glider on the porch!

    Tuesday, December 17, 2013

    AND THE WINNER IS...


    Rosi Hollinbeck won SEEING RED by 
    Kathy Erskine! 

     
    I met Rosi a few years ago at a Highlights writer's retreat with Editor, Carolyn Yoder. At the time she was writing a fascinating story about Queen Elizabeth which eventually published in March 2013 issue of Highlights Magazine (cover feature even!) 

    During our brief meeting I learned she can do an awesome Carolyn Yoder editorial voice! (Carolyn groupies will appreciate this.)

    Since then, I observed her work at THE WRITE STUFF blog on which she consistently offers great book reviews and giveaways. Which leads me to wonder when she has time to write her own historical fiction, poetry, and picture book projects.  If you follow her link you'll see that she has 2 reviews and a giveaway over there right now. 

    And not only that, she plans to read and review SEEING RED and then give it away. So if you're a little bit jealous of Rosi for winning, you've got yet another chance.

    Rosi's blog is for following, folks! Go sign up.  Thanks to you, Rosi,for joining this giveaway and for being such a generous member of the writing community.

    Friday, December 13, 2013

    Q & A with KATHRYN ERSKINE, Author of SEEING RED

    My last blog post was an introduction to SEEING RED, an MG/YA historical novel in which Author Kathy Erskine addresses one of her greatest passions - racial justice. Today, I'm pleased to share a conversation with Kathy. I met her when we shared a ride to a Highlights Founders Workshop with Editor, Patti Gauch. Since then, she's published several books and even won The National Book Award. She's remained the unassuming person of integrity that I met when we were both looking for a publishing home. We've visited a few times since then - the most recent one, via SKYPE

    Chatting with Kathy via SKYPE.



    She indulged me with a screen shot and later an email Q & A.  Here's where we get a tiny glimpse into her process for writing SEEING RED.
     
    1.  Kathy, I have an earlier version of SEEING RED in a big manila envelope.  You gave it to me for feedback way back before THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE, MOCKINGBIRD, and QUAKING were published.  So just how long has SEEING RED been in process and do you have a sense that now is the time to bring it out?  Or did you simply just find time to finish it?

    You're right -- this story started, literally, in the last century!  The short answer is that I finally matured enough as an author to be able to write the story I wanted to tell.  Sometimes stories need to "ripen."  Sometimes you have to keep going back to a story and rewriting it before you get it right.  Sometimes delays and disappointments can lead you to a wonderful place.

    For the long version, I laid out the whole history in a blog post.

    2.    Ooooooooh.  Thanks for sharing the whole history. "Sometimes it’s not about the end, it’s about the journey..." And what a journey! The title on the version I have is CORNERSTONE.  Want to mention a few of the titles the book has been through and how you settled on SEEING RED?

    Oh, this is so funny -- I can't even remember all the titles this manuscript has had!  It started as DEER SEASON until my husband asked why I was writing a hunting novel.  I dropped that and moved to CORNERSTONE, which he said sounded kind of heavy and lump-ish.  When I tried FREEDOM'S PHOENIX and FREEMAN'S PHOENIX he just kind of stared at me, which made me think those were even worse.  FACING FREEDOM was my favorite but there was a concern with the publisher that it might sound like a text book so we brainstormed some more.  It was amazingly hard to come up with something that captured the story but I think SEEING RED does it.  We settled on that title because not only is the main character's name "Red," and he starts to really "see" his world for the first time, but also because the expression "seeing red" means to be angry, and he does get angry about what's happening in his world.

     3.   Speaking of anger and seeing his world reminds me of one gut-wrenching scene in particular that really cranks ups the tension of the story. It wasn't in the version I read first. Without giving away too much, can you talk about how and why you added that scene?

    I think I know what scene you mean and I added it thanks to my fabulous editor, Andrea Pinkney, who correctly pointed out that Red needed to feel racism viscerally instead of just observing it and getting upset about it.  It needed to come fairly early in the book so we understand his motivations.  I had to put myself in that very uncomfortable place -- not that I've had that experience but I think we've all been part of a group dynamic where things get out of hand and we don't like what's going on but we don't quite know how to stop it.

    4.   You mentioned maturing as a writer since we first met in 2003 or 04, (which was it?) What have you learned that has transformed or informed your writing the most?

    It was late fall 2003 so we've known each other for 10 years -- wow!  This is where I should say something profound except all I can think of is practice, practice, practice.  You really do get better at something when you keep working at it.  You also gain confidence, which is what I needed for SEEING RED.  And I guess I could add that you should trust your own voice.  Voice is unique, obviously, but also very fragile.  Don't let your voice be critiqued out of your manuscript.  You can change the characters, plot and setting, but keep your own voice!

    Thanks so much Kathy for the wisdom.  And thank you for being the kind of person that cares about justice for all!

    And hey ya'll.  I'm giving away a copy of SEEING RED.  If you leave a comment AND share one of my SEEING RED posts on social media, I'll enter you!  DEADLINE IS MONDAY, DECEMBER 17!

    Monday, December 9, 2013

    SEEING RED by Kathryn Erskine

    First off, let me say, I'm giving away an Advanced Reader Copy of this book - unless of course, my generous nature kicks in and I decide to part with my gorgeous hardcover. The jury is still arguing over that. Either way you can't go wrong. So leave a comment AND share on social media to be entered in the contest. 

    But first, the review.
    SEEING RED is a disturbing book. There is the abusive neighbor and I've lived long enough to know he exists. There is the religious bigot and oh, yeah, I've met that one too. And then there is Red Porter, who in the midst of grief, does some things that go against his gentle nature.

    Red's father is dead and he wants nothing more than to remain as close to him as possible.  For Red, that means keeping his father's auto repair shop open. He loves everything about it, the cars arriving outside (which he can identify just by the sound of the engine), the feel of the tools in his hand, and the smells of oil and tires.

    From Page 2  I walked up the stairs in the back where Daddy had his office, taking in a deep breath of everything I loved. The shop was oil and gas and paint and dirt. It was brake pads, hoses, filters, and about any kind of tool you'd ever need to fix a car or truck. It was Lava soap, old rags, and a sink with a faucet you could turn on with just your elbow. It was the last place I saw Daddy.

    I relate to the above quote from the book.  This was my Grandpop's shop/gas station in Plumsteadville, PA. The smell of tires, oil, and gas will always remind me of someone I loved.


    Red clings to his Dad's garage but Mama wants to move on and, for her, that means selling the property and taking Red and his little brother to Ohio to live with her family. In some desperate attempts to thwart the sale, Red flirts dangerously with delinquent behaviors.

    The property Mama wants to sell (house, store and car repair shop) border the property of the abusive/racist neighbor and tangled up in the mix is some vague history Red has heard about his family's property, the abusive Dunlop's property and an African-American church.  There's also some dispute over the property boundaries and the belief that more than one hundred years ago a Dunlop ancestor killed the black pastor of the church.

    As Red thinks back over some scenes he'd witnessed between Daddy and Mr. Dunlop, those memories provide a puzzle with some pieces missing. But he's determined to find the pieces, assemble them, right some societal wrongs (his included), and maybe even hang on to his home place at the same time.

    SEEING RED is truly readable. It's underlined with mystery, filled with action, and populated with rich and complicated relationships. And it doesn't hurt that Kathryn Erskine writes tough subjects with gently placed humor. There's some collective soul searching to explore here and fortunately, Scholastic has created a Common Core Discussion Guide designed for Grades 5 -9. .

    The story is set in 1972 so, of course, America is going through a huge cultural shift.The most disturbing elements of SEEING RED have to do with racial relationships. In the Author Note, Erskine shares her passion for racial justice. As a child, she lived for awhile in South Africa surrounded by injustice and racial tension. Later she came to America and realized the painful truth that apartheid exists here too. As her mother explained it - "...we just don't call it that." 
       
    Please check back this week, because I've snagged an interview with Kathy.  I might even go into a blogging frenzy and post 2 days in a row!

    Here's the United Kingdom cover for SEEING RED.  Personally, I'm crazy about it!