Tuesday, September 27, 2016

INTO THE DEEP WITH DEBORAH HOPKINSON

In AIM - my forthcoming historical novel, Junior Bledsoe hears about German U-boats attacking first British and then American ships. The news brings war closer to Junior's world. But always, the submarines are a distant thing.

In her non-fiction book, DIVE, Deborah Hopkinson does something totally different with submarines. She takes the readers deep into ocean and gets us up close and personal with a topic I knew little about. I'm honored to host Deborah on my blog today.

Welcome, Deborah and congratulations on the publication and great reviews of DIVE!  (starred reviews, I might add)  It's a tremendous book! You totally sucked me into a topic I would not expect to enjoy. And that has inspired some questions.

1.    When I think of submarines I think of hardware – of something hard and cold but also deeply mysterious. I would never think to write about them. What drew you to this topic?

Each book I write seems to have a different inspiration. I like to tell students that writers are like insects with their “story antennae” out!  For this one, I just happened to have read a WWII adventure book about submarines when I was a girl, and never forgot it.

But the real inspiration for DIVE! came from my husband, Andy Thomas, who one day brought home from the library the classic German U-Boat film, Das Boot. Our family somehow got into watching all sorts of submarine films after that, and when I was searching for a topic for one of my three nonfiction books on WWII, I decided I wanted to know more about the actual history. And I learned so much – one of things that keeps me coming back to writing nonfiction.

2.   Always learning!  Writers are lucky that way.  You made the topic immediately accessible for me because you focused on the sailors (and others) who lived and worked on submarines.  I could relate to the human story that naturally goes along with the submarine. Can you talk about how you found the sailors and their stories?

When I visit schools and talk to students, I always encourage them to think carefully about sources whenever preparing for a research paper.  Good sources are essential.

For DIVE! I read as many primary and secondary accounts as I could get my hands on and in the end focused on the sailors and submarines whose stories I felt young readers would enjoy. 

3.  Is there one individual or incident in particular that you found exceptionally compelling? 

In my research, I was fortunate to find three memoirs from sailors on the Wahoo, all of whom shared their own perspectives. One of the Wahoo’s most amazing patrols took the boat to an unknown harbor called Wewak, in Papua, New Guinea, where the submarine took a compelling “down the throat” shot at close range at a destroyer. Each of the three sailors was deeply affected by the incident, and each shared what happened and their role.

It’s a famous incident to begin with, but being able to “experience” it through the eyes of three different individuals made it especially exciting to write about.

4.   Yay - layers! What special quality did you find in the sailors that inspired you and how do you hope they will inspire your readers?

What I loved about the submariners I “met” through their first-person accounts and memoirs was their humor and sense of teamwork. One of my favorite chapters in the book is how some female nurses were evacuated by submarine from Corregidor in the Philippines. One young woman described how the submarine cook had made a chocolate cake to welcome them!

Of course, probably the most impressive thing about these young men was their indomitable courage and perseverance, and I hope this comes through in the book to inspire young readers.

5.  I remember the cake story - just one example of the human element of a story about a submarine. And what about submarines, themselves?  Any particular finding that fascinates you?

My husband and I took a tour of the USS Blueback, which is based on the Willamette River as part of OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. One of the most fascinating things to me was the compact, efficient design, and just how close the living quarters really were.  I am quite short, barely five feet, so in truth I felt pretty comfortable walking around!

6.   Clearly you are a master of research and I imagine you must thrive on it.  For this particular book, what was the most challenging aspect of research?  Do you have a fun story to share about tracking something down or some unexpected treasure you found?

Probably the most challenging aspect of the project was to try to hone a very complex, multi-faceted story into a compelling narrative. Several of my research books were hundreds of pages in length. I also wanted to help readers see the submarines as separate characters, and wanted to limit unfamiliar place names.

As far as an unexpected treasure, students who have seen me present in person or via Skype know that I love dogs. So, even though it didn’t fit all that well with the chronology, I wanted to include a chapter about wartime mascots and “stowaways.”  As I worked on that, I found something wonderful. Copies are available online of original submarine war patrol reports. They’re images from microfilm, and not very easy to read. But I stumbled upon the birth of a litter of puppies recorded – as it happened – by a submarine captain at sea, and therefore made part of official Navy historical records.

Speaking of dogs - 
meet Deborah's writing companion, Rue.

7.  Deborah, I know lots of writers are introverts.  We get our energy from being alone. And yet, writing also takes us into the public arena.  You do lots of workshops, conferences and school visits.  Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  How do you rest or re-energize after a big event?

While I enjoy meeting people, especially young readers at schools, I am probably most happy at my desk surrounded by a pile of books (with my little dog Rue sleeping beside me just as she is at this moment).  The Portland, OR area abounds with parks, and I love to take my dogs on walks. I also find exercise helpful, and after a long plane ride, I’ll head to a Pilates class to re-energize. 

And, of course, I read!

Yes, of course!  Thanks, Deborah for dropping by.  And thanks to the rest of you for listening in. I'm sure you know that Deborah is a prolific and much acclaimed author. You can learn more about her and her diverse titles at www.deborahhopkinson.com
 or follow her on Twitter@deborahopkinson.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

COMFORT - The Prologue

It was my friends and neighbors and the singing of Imogene's people that got me through that first year, after the war.

But to tell you the truth,
I never thought it would be a matter of just getting through.

For some reason, I thought that when my daddy come home from fighting, my world would be put back right again.

Not perfect right, of course, on account of Bobby dying of polio while Daddy was gone. And me catching it too, and coming home from the hospital on crutches.

Still, I thought Daddy and me both coming home would be like putting the last piece in a puzzle and sitting back to enjoy the pretty picture.

But hard as I tried, I couldn't make things be the way I wanted them with Daddy. I learned quick enough that when someone drops a bomb in one small place on this planet, it shatters the whole universe,

And not just for a little while either.
The breaking goes on forever...

Thursday, August 25, 2016

RUBY LEE & ME

My Facebook feed is rife with back-to-school photos. Which makes this the perfect time to reflect on an era when enormous changes rolled across our educational system. During the late 1960's, racial integration of the public schools was finally being enforced.

In 1967 when Fall Creek Elementary in East Bend, NC became integrated, Shannon Hitchcock started first grade. 

Her school’s first African-American teacher taught her to read. Later, as an adult, Shannon learned Mrs. Porter was in poor health so she asked to visit. She wanted her teacher to know what an impact she'd made on her life. Mrs. Porter reminded her that white children had been uneasy about having a black teacher. To ease her students' concerns, she'd invited each of them to touch her face and hair. 

Shannon knew immediately that she wanted to write that story. The result is RUBY LEE & ME, inspired by her teacher, Mrs. Pauline Porter. 

RUBY LEE & ME is an authentic story of a 12 year-old white girl's struggles with guilt, loyalty, and circumstances that are beyond her control. Besides feeling responsible for her younger sister's accident, Sarah faces immense societal changes as her local school is forced to become racially integrated. She has a marvelous friendship with a black neighbor, Ruby Lee but school integration, which looms on the horizon, raises honest questions about how they will interact when their other friends are around. 

The uncertainty leads to misunderstandings, feelings of betrayal, and hurtful words.RUBY LEE & ME is tender, informative, impeccably written, and unflinchingly honest.

RUBY LEE & ME is a terrific addition to classroom reading lists and the learning experience will be enhanced with these Discussion Questions.  

Teachers and school librarians, you can enter the #MGGetsReal Giveaway that includes RUBY LEE & ME along with four other middle grade books covering tough topics. You'll find the contest widget at the bottom of the #MGGetsReal page. And do spread the word!

 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER

I suppose most of us know someone who has Alzheimer's. Shannon Wiersbitzky's grandfather developed the disease and eventually he even forgot who she was.

That personal heartbreaking experience led to the writing of WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER, a touching novel about a resourceful girl who loves gardening with Old Red, a grandfather figure in her small town. Because Old Red's heirloom flowers are enjoyed by townspeople and strangers too, Delia comes up with a business plan for the two of them - saving and selling his seeds so their beauty will enhance life in Tucker's Ferry, West Virginia for years to come.

While they garden together, Old Red tells stories of his life. But as dementia moves in, Delia realizes he is losing his own story. Once again she comes up with a plan - this time to recapture Old Red's memories. But, for that, she needs the help of the whole town.

Shannon says, "I wanted to capture what it feels like to be forgotten, in the hopes that any child experiencing the disease would know it isn’t their fault.”  

She has done that so beautifully in WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER. I believe that children who've experienced dementia in a loved one will be touched by Delia's determination to keep Old Red's memories alive. Perhaps those readers too, will move closer to their loved one, rather than pulling away.

All of us, whether we know someone with dementia or not, would do well to value the stories of those who've come before us as Delia does. 

Shannon is also the author of THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS, a prequel to WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER. 

You can learn more about Shannon at her website. She writes for Maria Shriver's blog and she is intentional about being a positive influence on the world. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

JUST A DROP OF WATER

One month from today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Very soon after the attacks, Kerry O'Malley Cerra  discovered that Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, lived just around the corner from her.

In her words. "Within a day or two of the attacks, my alternating moods of anger, sadness, and pride suddenly had a new emotion to deal with. Fear."

As Kerry struggled with unexpected emotions and the changing landscape of American relationships, a story began to emerge.  JUST A DROP OF WATER echoes her own emotional experience as two boys, one Muslim and one Christian struggle to keep their friendship in the face of the 9/11 attacks.


Jake, a highly competitive cross-country runner has the usual  rivalries with  team mates and competitors. And those rivalries have him making plans for winning in a less than sportsmanlike manner. But his plans are hijacked when terrorists take over multiple airplanes and crash them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon building

Yet another plane is brought down by heroic passengers on a plane flying over western Pennsylvania. All airline flights are suspended. It is as if the entire world comes to a standstill.

Jake's meet is cancelled and Jake's world changes as his best friend, Sam, who is Muslim, comes under suspicion.  Fiercely loyal, Jake attempts to maintain their friendship but it feels as if he is the only one fighting to maintain trust and normalcy.

JUST A DROP OF WATER echoes the feelings of many Americans in the wake of 9/11 and it does so via the authentic voice of a boy with a big heart and sometimes misguided intentions. The sports theme lends itself to bigger questions of playing fair, fighting dirty, and making peace.   

Teachers and librarians, if you're looking for an engaging novel to help your students grasp the enormity of 9/11 and how it is shaping our worldview, reach for this book. Here's a quick preview.
 

Kerry's background in Social Studies makes her an ideal person to speak to your students about her book and her passion for peacemaking. She loves engaging with students and will turn them on to reading, not only her book, but many other examples that she'll bring with her.

JUST A DROP OF WATER will be included in the #MGGetsReal giveaway (open to educators) that will be kicked off on August 16 at the NCTE blog.  Please do enter for a set of five books on tough topics.



Tuesday, August 2, 2016

THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM


I can't imagine how painful it would be to write the story of the bombing of Hiroshima. That would require some powerful motivation.

But Kathleen Burkinshaw, author of The Last Cherry Blossom was deeply motivated. On August 6, 1945 her own mother was in Hiroshima - two miles from the epicenter. Somehow she survived. I cannot imagine that either.  How does one emotionally survive such a trauma?
Kathleen Hilliker Burkinshaw with her mom.
“She lost so much that day," says Kathleen. "Yet she never lost her ability to love. Each person under that famous mushroom cloud was someone's mother, father, brother, sister, or child.”

While inspired by a true story, The Last Cherry Blossom is a fictional account. 

Twelve year-old Yuriko lives a life of physical comforts but on the emotional front, life isn't so easy. Being the daughter of a wealthy newspaperman sets her apart from her classmates.  She does, however, have one good friend. And she has a proud family heritage. At least that is what she's always believed.

Then, in the last year of WWII, secrets emerge that challenge her assumptions about family and personal identity. 

But challenges often hold hidden blessings and just when life couldn't possibly get any worse, when Hiroshima is bombed, and all hope seems lost, Yuriko's family secret becomes a blessing. 

Kathleen paints this painful historical landscape with just the right amount of detail. And thank goodness for the hope that colors the ending

I'm grateful to Kathleen, for daring to look this dark day in the face and for bringing it in story form to middle graders who otherwise may never know.

  • Back in May, when President Obama visited Hiroshima, Kathleen called into the Diane Rehm Show to give a personal reflection on the bombing.  You can hear her at this May 27 podcast.  It's a long show of course and worthy of listening to but if you want to skip to Kathleen's contribution she comes in right about 33:52
  • For a thorough review (no spoilers) of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM visit Carol Baldwin's Blog. Carol always gives fabulous insights as well as quotes from whatever book she is reviewing.
  • Kathy's book is part of #MGGetsReal - an effort to get books about tough topics into the hands of Middle Graders.  There are giveaways involved so do check it out!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

EXPLORING THE BULLY


COMFORT (sequel to BLUE) has a bully.  Rob Walker is not a  huge part of the story but he manages to make Ann Fay's life with a disability extra challenging. What we don't see in COMFORT are the factors that influence Rob's mean behavior.

While writing AIM, my forthcoming prequel to BLUE, I had the opportunity to explore Rob's life. His older brother, Dudley is our window into Rob's world.  Dudley's behavior toward protagonist, Junior Bledsoe is bullying at times. And even Junior acts thoughtlessly and with a mean spirit a time or two in the story.

What Junior doesn't expect, is that he and Dudley have more in common than either of them imagined. And that explains a lot about Rob, too. As it turns out, a mean-spirit can pass right on down a family line.  Which is certainly not to say that meanness is in our genes - but that our family circumstances can make us hard.

Every bully begins life as an innocent babe.  Then something happens. Or a series of somethings. That's what I wanted to explore in AIM - when hard things happen, do they have to make us hard? Or can we choose to be positively shaped by them? Junior Bledsoe finds himself faced with these questions. 

For more on bullies and literature, check out the latest issue of Talking Story.

AIM will be released Oct. 4, 2016 but you can pre-order it now!


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

WRITING A GENERATIONAL STORY

AIM, a prequel to BLUE and COMFORT, is about family dysfunction spanning several generations. Junior Bledsoe has just lost Pop (his father) to an alcohol-induced death. On top of that, his insufferable grandfather has moved in and now shares his bedroom.

As a writer I had the challenge of figuring out, not only Junior's emotions, but also, what made his Pop tick. Living with his grandfather yields clues about why Pop drank and avoided his own family. But Junior also seeks answers from his aunts and, as stories unfold, he begins to understand Pop better.

I also wondered why Granddaddy, himself was such a miserable person. Until I figured that out, the story felt incomplete. I found the answers in the following paragraphs.

Source: Library of Congress

 First thing out of the box was a studio portrait of a soldier. “That’s your great-granddaddy there.”

“Your daddy?”
 

“Yup. Gideon Bledsoe. Confederate army.” Granddaddy picked up the tin can he kept by the rocker.  He spit a stream of tobacco juice into the can and kept on talking. “He was a pipsqueak when he joined. By the time, he came back, he was hard as nails. I wasn’t born yet but I can attest to the truth of it. A war will grow you right up.”
 

Gideon looked to be about my age. Fourteen. His eyes were might near as shiny as the buttons on his uniform. His dark hair curled out from under his wool cap. Looking at that picture, I couldn’t deny him for a relative of mine.

 As Junior struggles with the dysfunctions of Pop and Granddaddy, he's drawn to the soldier boy who looks so much like him. Clearly Great-granddaddy wasn't always hard as nails. 

In the course of the story, Junior makes some critical mistakes. He learns from those experiences but just as important are the lessons he learns from the generations that preceded him.

I'm pleased to announce that AIM is scheduled for release in Fall of 2016. What generational stories have you written or enjoyed? 

Book giveaways and more on generational stories at Talking Story.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

WHILE GOING THROUGH MY CLOSET

While going through my clothing 
at the change of season 
I long for a walk-in closet.

But then, I remember 
that some families live in houses
the size of a walk-in.

Still others search for home
via boats on the harsh November sea.

I cannot fear those shivering children 
or the parents who flee with them from violence.
I will not buy the idea that an entire people group should be shunned as evil.

The world has endured at least one such holocaust
and we ask how it could have happened.
It happened because one person at a time chose her own comforts over the well-being of others.

I've lived a life of near constant tranquility.

Therefore, should some random act of violence 
take my breath away,
I ask for the grace to die praying for the perpetrator.
Praying that he or she discovers the same Peace 
that seems to have so randomly selected me.

 
Samaritan's Purse volunteers putting arms of Love around grateful refugees.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A LITTLE BIT OF THIS. A LITTLE BIT OF THAT

Incredibly my last post was six months ago. But every time I consider blogging, I just feel that it will steal from novel writing.  And why would I want to do that? Anyway, I've decided to try something new which is to journal a little nearly every day and then post it once a week.

MONDAY (hanging with Dad, squirrel hunting - the 2 are unrelated)

Our family met with Dad last night to explore options for keeping him in his home as long as possible. There are 8 of us to share the responsibility/pleasure. Dad's always been a doer and a server. Now it's his turn to be cared for and he's handling his lack of independence gracefully.
Dad serving coffee to his children a year or 3 ago.


I can write from his home, read, and do online research. Today I'm tweaking a squirrel hunting scene that gets to the heart of my character's story. I watched some "how-to kill a squirrel" clips on YouTube. But I much prefer watching  squirrels scampering in our backyard as I did from my deck this morning.

TUESDAY(work-in-progress)

I called the local history museum to ask if they'd gather research materials for me on local schools and moonshine in 1941 - not that the two have any thing to do with each other.  I'm working on a novel proposal and wow, at a minimum I need 3 chapters and an outline.  Chapters are easy for me.  Sort of.  I have 11 written but um, uh, um now what?  I have a general idea where this book is going but the whole idea of plot is scaring me a smidge. 

Hubby suggested I get in NaNoWriMo mode and just write like mad, rather than trying to plot this out. Speaking of which, I love this plotting post by Jami Gold.  Beat Sheets For Plotters, Pansters, and Techophobes And yeah, I'm kind of working with her 4 major story beats rather than a full on outline.

WEDNESDAY (eating avocado seed)
We had coffee on the grill this morning since we woke up to no electricity.  Which also meant no internet which isn't such a bad idea once in a while. Hubby and I chatted more than usual and he listened while I brainstormed my work-in-progress.  Electricity returned and I ate an avocado seed, pulverized in a smoothie. It's bitter but the taste can be masked with just the right ingredients.  I'll let you know what those are when I figure it out.  Nut butters seem to work well. 


SATURDAY (Whatever happened to Thursday and Friday?)
Apparently Thursday and Friday evaporated into thin air.  In fact, I just now realized that I totally forgot to show up at the history museum to use the materials they agreed to gather for me. I can tell you I was with people mostly. And I mostly did not write.  But I did spend some time thinking about characters and also working on incorporating the build up to war (WWII) in my story.

We had rain which we desperately needed and everything turned gorgeous on us. I am so struck by the sight of golden wheat against the backdrop of greenery. And no, this picture does not do it justice.


Today, I anticipate doing yard work. Right after spending time with the 2 grands who stayed overnight.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

RESEARCH THE MIRACLE

Richard Eller and students at Catawba Valley Community College are Researching the Miracle which includes producing a video about Hickory's 1944 polio epidemic and the emergency hospital.

This week, I met with Richard to reflect on the writing of Blue and what I found compelling in this momentous event in our town's history.
Richard Eller
I was a smidgen nervous about whether I'd be articulate on camera. But Richard was so affable and quietly encouraging that it mostly felt like an enjoyable conversation. 

Richard, who believes that "history is best when you walk in its footsteps" has led students in multiple HANDS ON HISTORY projects, such as The Selma Experience below. 



Best class ever! Yay!

As it turns out, Richard is also editing a book which will examine our polio epidemic and the community's response to it from a variety of perspectives. I can't wait to read it!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ON FAMILY AND WRITING. AND TIME...


Hubby and I on a recent beach trip.

Sometimes, when people ask about my new book and I confess that I don't have one, I think they must wonder what in the world I do with my time.


Saw this on a recent trip to South Carolina and just had to stop and take pics. 

I guess they think I'm hanging around, getting rusty. 

Here's the thing. I never stopped writing.  But writing is not the same thing as publishing. Publishing involves writing what the market demands and what the economy will allow. And doing it so well a publisher will risk thousands to put it out there. It means selling myself.  It involves difficult decisions about whether to submit to an agent or to the people I love already. (Paralyzing!) It uses a different part of the brain than writing does. It means relentless marketing. It means focus.

And who has enough hours in the day to do it all? Alas! Most writers do not own a Wonder Woman cape.

I'm going through a phase. It's called real life and family. I'm in the middle of my aging parents and my children and my grands and sometimes I do feel like a sandwich. Somewhere, between the slices of life, are my publishing dreams. 

But the slices of life are thick and crusty at times. Filled with sorrow, hard work, and just plain fun. Memory making days. Evenings to just be with the people I love.  I know this is a phase and it won't last forever.

I'm hanging on to some parts of this - the moments in my parents' home which, I assume, will eventually be sold to strangers. Lingering beneath the tremendous oak tree at the back door, cleaning bathrooms, and holding my father's hand when he prays before meals - I'm soaking these up.

A few years ago we spent one amazing day at my mother's death bed. My quiet mom ruled the day with her sweet spirit and her delight in greeting each member as we arrived. The memory fills me with a strange joy.
My father and mother on her last day with us.

Daddy is 92 and when he's gone I want to know that I enjoyed being with him even when I could have been writing a query letter. There will be time in life for publishing contracts and I do continue to pursue them. Sometimes.  (Though not relentlessly, so maybe I am getting a little rusty.)

But later, when I'm on my deathbed, I want more than a shelf of books to look at. The stories I write will be part of my legacy for sure. But the stories I want on my last day will be the ones my people tell about our time together. 

My incredible, faithful, hubby. Our two amazing children-all grown up now. Those giggling grands. And my siblings too. Their faces and the stories they tell are the legacy I want to leave. 


Checking the crab traps.

But none of this stops me from grieving a little about my publishing career. What about you? What priorities do you struggle with?

Monday, September 22, 2014

WRITE ON, MERCY!



Although Mercy Otis Warren learned the womanly skills of sewing, cooking, and managing a household, she had other interests. She lived in colonial Massachusetts, cared about politics, and chafed under the oppression of British rule. 

Fortunately her father wanted her to have an education and arranged for her to study with a local minister. As a girl she could not attend college but she read her brother's textbooks. She had a way with words. She had friends like George Washington, Paul Revere, and John & Abigail Adams. She married James Warren who encouraged her to write.  

During the American Revolution she wrote and published popular plays without her name attached. And after the war she kept on writing.

Through personal heartbreak and failing health she wrote until eventually, at age 77, she published a three volume history under her name. History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American RevolutionL: Interspersed with biographical, Political and Moral Obeservations by Mrs. Mercy Warren.

Write On, Mercy!: The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren by Gretchen Woelfle is a picture book for ages 8 - 18. It is the story of one woman who knew her purpose in life and exercised her voice.  It is a celebration of breaking free.  

Write On Mercy! is published by Calkins Creek Books.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

GIVEAWAY: Goldie Takes a Stand

It's time to choose a winner of GOLDIE TAKES A STAND: Golda Meir's First Crusade.   So here goes - the winner is...


Linda Andersen

Congratulations, Linda!  And thanks for participating! It's an inspiring book and I know you will share it with the young readers in your life.

A special thank you to author, Barbara Krasner for the interview and the book donation.

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