|Interview with Meg Wiviott.|
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
History is filled with horrible, frightening events. Still, history needs to be taught. Finding a gentle way to tell a tragic, truthful story is something for which I seem to have a knack.
Kristallnacht, Auschwitz, and death marches are not the usual stuff of books for young readers. Finding an age appropriate manner to tell the story is a trick.
Honesty is the only way to tell any story, but especially an historical one. A writer must be respectful of the history and the characters. This requires that the writer not impose her twenty-first century sensibilities on a different time. I always start with truth. I do not dilute it. I do not dumb it down. But how is that done for young readers not yet ready to face some historic horrors? I have found that giving the reader space, distance, room to digest the truth works best.
For Benno and the Night of Broken Glass (Kar-Ben, 2010), I used a cat. Benno is a child-like, innocent, unbiased observer. He gives readers the emotional space to witness history from a safe place, allowing readers to take in what they can.
In Paper Hearts (McElderry, 2015), verse gave me that same emotional space. Poetry is all about metaphor. The use of white space, illusions, and elisions allow a writer to be honest without being blunt. The poetry allows a reader to take in only what he or she is capable of understanding. On subsequent readings, the reader should be able to take in more.
Both techniques allow for a gentle way of telling a horrendous truth. Simply because a story is terrible and filled with hatred, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told. In fact, it probably mean it needs to be told.
Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott (McElderry, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: one U.S. only, one international. From the promotional copy:
Amid the brutality of Auschwitz during the Holocaust, a forbidden gift helps two teenage girls find hope, friendship, and the will to live in this novel in verse that’s based on a true story.
An act of defiance.
A statement of hope.
A crime punishable by death.
Making a birthday card in Auschwitz was all of those things. But that is what Zlatka did, in 1944, for her best friend, Fania. She stole and bartered for paper and scissors, secretly creating an origami heart. Then she passed it to every girl at the work tables to sign with their hopes and wishes for happiness, for love, and most of all—for freedom.
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