Monday, March 10, 2014

Pure Grit - with Guest Blogger Mary Cronk Farrell

Fiction and Non-Fiction for Young People Take a Look at 
War Veteran’s Coming Home

Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific is a little-known true story about 79 women who were captured POW by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942.

The Japanese attack on American forces in the Philippines came shortly after the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it caught the U.S. army and navy unprepared. Nurses rose to the occasion though they had not been trained in combat nursing. They helped set up field hospitals in the Bataan jungle and worked day and night trying to save the lives of American and Filipino soldiers.

When Americans were forced to surrender to the Japanese, the nurses were sent to internment camps where they remained captive for three years. They bravely faced the horrors of prison camp—disease, starvation and humiliation by their guards. Finally liberated near the end of WWII, they came home to a brief celebrity, and then were told to forget what had happened and not talk of it.

Many of the women suffered physical and emotional scars throughout their lives, while not receiving recognition for their sacrifice and service.

This book ties in with a number of excellent fictional titles which delve into more current situations of veterans arriving home from war and dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and family relationships.

The Impossible Knife of Memory is the story of teenager Hayley Kincaid and her Iraq vet father finally settling down after years of living from town to town as he struggled with PTSD. Maybe now Hayley will be able to go to high school and live a normal life, maybe even have a boyfriend. Author Laurie Halse Anderson, drew on her experience as the daughter of a war veteran to write her latest book. Click here for an interview with her about how personal this book is for Halse Anderson.

The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt and Something like Normal by Trish Doller are both novels about young men who go off to war directly after high school graduation. The stories begin when the young men come home, and take a keen look at the difficulty of family relationships because members can’t truly understand the veteran experience.

In Reinhardt’s story, seventeen-year-old Levi follows his older brother Boaz, an ex-Marine, on a walking trip from Boston to Washington, D.C. in hopes of learning why Boaz is completely withdrawn. Doller writes about soldier Travis home on leave from Afghanistan and desperately trying to cope with PTSD after seeing his best friend die. 

Students might compare and contrast how the women of WWII and the male soldiers who fought in the Middle East and Afghanistan felt about participating in a war? Perhaps they can identify evidence from the text to support their conclusions.

Students could look at similarities and differences between veterans’ experiences coming home after WWII and, now after Iraq and Afghanistan. Teachers can engage them in collaborative discussions about these topics as well as issues such as, what it’s like for young people when a parent returns home from active military service, what responsibilities a country has toward its returning warriors, and what lessons it is possible to learn from history.

Thanks, Mary, for stepping in as guest blogger today. I know teachers will appreciate your insight and include these stories in their classroom. 

I'd love to your inspiration for Pure Grit.  Can you tell us about that? soon as I heard about American woman POWs in WWII, I had to discover more about them. The more I discovered, I knew I had to do the story. For me there was never any question. The women are so inspiring, I wanted to tell everyone about them.

I'm so glad you did!  Their stories are so important to history.  What's next for your readers?

My next book is a biography of Labor Leader Fannie Sellins who was shot to death on the picket line in 1919. Another example of a courageous and compassionate women in history we have heard too little about.

 Sounds like another compelling read!  Find out more about Mary and her books on her website

Friday, January 31, 2014

Ick! Yuck! Eeeew! -- An Interview with Lois Huey

Yuck! Ick! Eew! by Lois Huey is disgusting!  And that’s what makes it a wonderful read for middle school kids interested in how people really lived in history. As a reader who loves to read historical fiction and imagine myself in those flowing gowns riding inside carriages and walking through heather-filled fields, Lois Huey’s book shatters that dream by shining a very bright light on the reality of those days. Lois has done an amazing job on her research and so much of this information will be new to readers. This is a great book for classes studying Colonial America.  I’ll leave my dreams inside those romantic book pages and be thankful I can put on a gown for Halloween and still live in 2014 America! 

Lois, can you tell us more about how you conducted your research for this book?

In addition to information from excavations, I consulted original sources, that is, accounts from the time period. The people who lived then had little to say; they were used to their conditions. But the diaries and letters of visitors were a great source. They commented on what they saw--and a lot of it wasn't flattering.

As an archeologist you have probably encountered history from the ground up.  Did anything surprise you when you were writing this?

First, I encounter history from the top of the ground down. I have excavated in the yards of many New York State historic houses from the 17th and 18th centuries and discovered their surroundings were far from clean. Trash littered the ground. What surprised me in the research about life above the ground was the information about bugs! They were surrounded with flies, mosquitoes, bedbugs, etc. Yuck!

Is there any period of time that you could imagine yourself in if you could travel back in time?

I would love to go back in time to the 18th century, but I'm afraid the smells alone would knock me over! So I'll stick to what I can imagine while excavating through layers of time in the ground and what I can learn from those who did experience it firsthand.

What can your fans look forward to reading?

Just out is my first online publication done for The New Netherland Institute. Click on the link to read it  and enjoy the colorful illustrations.

My next book, also from Lerner Publishing, is about the lives of enslaved people in the northern states. Yes, there were thousands of slaves in the north living with their enslavers in the same house while working in the cities and small farms. What were their lives like? Since they left few records, I am reporting what has been learned by scientists who examine bones and test for DNA. Three 18th century African burial grounds  have been excavated by archaeologists in the north so far. One is near Albany, NY, one in Portsmouth, NH, and one in New York City. I am comparing the results of each.

Thanks, Lois!  If readers want to learn more about Lois' books check out her site

Monday, January 20, 2014

Interview: Augusta Scattergood on Glory Be

Augusta Scattergood’s debut middle grade, Glory Be, perfectly captures life in a Mississippi town during the Freedom Summer in the early 1960s.  With the same sensitivity and beauty of Kathryn Stockard’s The Help, Scattergood, gives us a story of civil rights and friendship. I had the pleasure of serving on the faculty of a Highlights Foundation Workshop with Augusta and am happy to share this conversation with you. 

Thanks, Augusta, for writing such a beautiful novel and for talking with me today.

Thanks for having me, Nancy!

 Glory Be is wonderful.  As authors, I'm not sure if we choose our stories or if they choose us. What was the case with Glory Be?

I think I chose this one! I've always loved to write, but writing a novel seemed like a daunting task. I first tried to write it as an adult short story about a wedding planner who loved Elvis. Well, thank goodness that didn't work out!

I love middle-grade novels, especially historicals. I really felt I knew this time and place.
It took me a while to sort it all out, but by the time I realized exactly what I wanted to say, it felt like I'd handpicked the story.

This story feels very personal.  Tell us about your research.

I certainly didn't have to research the food, the clothing, the town. Those were based on my own experiences. But even the music and the Nancy Drew books, I double-checked to be sure the dates were right. Believe it or not, there's a terrific book about the history of swimming pools, and of course, many about Freedom Summer in Mississippi. I read a lot about the subject. True confessions, I love research.

My absolute favorite research was done via oral histories, especially those on the Library of Congress and the University of North Carolina websites. Hearing those voices and reading their words was like stepping back in time.

And the research you did certainly comes through in this book, Augusta.

It is challenging to imagine a world without the civil rights we now enjoy, even though discrimination still exists among so many different groups.   How do you feel kids will relate to Glory and her world today?

It delights me to no end when kids are astounded about that world. When they cannot believe that it was against the law for black children and white children to go to school, the library, the playgrounds together. That happens often when I do presentations about the book and the 1960s.

It also surprises me how much today's kids know about the social scene! The music-- though they have no clue when I mention "45s"-- is something they seem to have at least heard about. All hands go up when I ask who the King of Rock and Roll might be.

Although it doesn't seem that long ago for some of us, Glory Be is definitely historical to the children reading it. What were the challenges in bringing this story to printed page?

Where shall I begin?
As Greg Neri, one of my writer friends said when I told him I'd sold the book: "Ten years to overnight success. That's about right."

I think I had a large learning curve about how to plot a book. Then there was finding the perfect agent. But truly, once Linda Pratt and I connected, the rest was easy. I loved working with my editor. And I couldn't have dreamed of a better publisher for this particular book than Scholastic.
Congratulations on a terrific book that, I'm sure, will find its way into many hands. On that note, what’s next for your fans?

Fans. That truly tickles me, Nancy.

My next book, The Way to Stay in Destiny, another middle-grade novel, will be published by Scholastic in Spring, 2015--next year! Also edited by Andrea Pinkney, this one's set in 1974, in Destiny, Florida. About baseball, pianos, a dancing teacher, Hank Aaron.
It was a lot of fun to write.
Thanks so much, Augusta!  For more on Glory Be read Lessons on Bigotry and Bravery from NPR.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Art in Demand

I just got off the phone with a friend who spent yesterday on line outside the Frick in NYC anxiously waiting to view Vermeer's Girl With A Pearl Earring.

There is no question that this is a spectacular painting. I was lucky enough to view it several years ago in the Rjksmuseum in Amsterdam. But, let's applaud Tracy Chevalier's book of the same title and the adapted movie for launching it's popularity into the stratosphere.  Isn't it wonderful when one art form, or in this case two, can propel another?

Chevalier's inspiration grew from a poster in her room.  Art inspiring art. Don't you love it?

The painting at the Frick will be on view until January 19th. I hope that all the painting's fans will explore the rest of the collection during their visit and find their own inspiration.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Zora Neale Hurston

Today is the day that They're Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was published!  Have you read it yet?  It's one of my favorites!  If you haven't, today is the day to check it out.

It's also the perfect day to share the story of Zora Neale Hurston with your students through the beautiful, historical fiction, MG novel by Victoria Bond and TR Simon titled Zora and Me.   Read my review in an earlier post.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Some Highlights!

I've been having the pleasure of listening to the wisdom of wonderful historical fiction writers (and a fabulous agent) all week at Highlights and just had to share a few of these gems with you!

Keep in mind - these work for historical fiction AND many other genres!

"It doesn't matter how great the fact is, if the fact doesn't enhance the story." Kirby Larson

"Authentic characters are achieved when the author has become invisible." Linda Pratt

"Thou shall not repeat falsehoods. (Be accurate!)" Tracy Barrett

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Magic Flute

Teacher and librarian friends: Today the Magic Flute premiered in Vienna in 1791.  A nice teaching connection with Kyra Teis' beautiful picture book, The Magic Flute. Check out her site for some great teaching ideas.