Giveaways

South Asian Historical Fiction – Author Interview with Veera Hiranandani, and Giveaway

Historical fiction makes readers feel connected to people and settings from the past. Growing up in India, the time of the Indian subcontinent’s freedom movement, division, and independence was pretty significant in my student life. The heroic stories of the survivors were part of my history lessons. I remember dressing up like freedom fighters for costume shows in cultural events at school. I imagined – through the stories I read – how the experience would affect a child who lived that life.

The Partition of India was the division of British India in 1947 that resulted in the creation of two independent countries – India and Pakistan. It was one of the most important historical moments of South Asia.  More than 14 million people were displaced between the two countries, and nearly two million of them were killed.

I’m thrilled that Veera Hiranandani gave a voice to the children who experienced the life-changing experience in 1947, through her novel, THE NIGHT DIARY.

            

In this post, author Veera Hiranandani shares her experience of writing THE NIGHT DIARY, a poignant, personal, and hopeful story of India’s partition, and of one girl’s journey to find a new home in a divided country.

The book is called “THE NIGHT DIARY.” Explain what that is. Where did this story begin for you?

THE NIGHT DIARY is a fictional diary, where twelve-year old Nisha writes to her deceased mother about her experiences during the Partition of India in 1947. In some ways, the story began when I was a child, because I grew up hearing about partition from my father. My father was nine when he and his family had to leave his home in Mirpur Khas, Pakistan and travel over the new border of India into Jodhphur. I would hear parts of the story, but I knew they weren’t telling me everything. This ignited my curiosity and when I got older, I started asking more questions and researching on my own. As I learned more about it, I was shocked at the amount of violence and upheaval millions of people experienced. I didn’t know I would grow up to be a writer, but when I did, I knew I had to try and shape a story around this piece of history.

So take us to the year of 1947. We know that more than a million people were killed and many millions displaced by India’s partition. Are there any true stories that moved you to write this book? If so, how did you go about translating the true shocking experiences so that it made sense to young readers?

Several weeks after India’s independence and the partitioning of India into two countries, India and Pakistan, my father’s family decided they had to leave their home as the unrest around them grew closer. They packed a few bags, got on a train, and left everything behind. They arrived over the border safely, but lost their home, their friends, their community. They were considered lucky.

As a young girl living growing up in Connecticut, my life seemed pretty secure, and the thought of losing everything so quickly was hard to imagine, but my father felt the same way about his life in Mirpur Khas. He lived on a large piece of property with his parents, brothers and sisters. His father was the head doctor at the Mirpur Khas hospital. They were involved and connected to their community. Yet, things changed overnight for my father’s family as it does for Nisha in the book. How could a peaceful community completely change in a matter of weeks? How does violence and hate spread so quickly? These are the main questions I had about partition that I tried to explore in the book.

My father’s family made it safely, but many others did not. Many lost their lives. I wanted to express these questions honestly and innocently, the way a young person would, yet I needed to communicate the realities of the fear, violence, and divisiveness without making it too difficult for young readers. It was a tricky balance to maintain.

In the novel, the main character is twelve-year-old Nisha who doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. She embarks on a long journey after leaving her home and faces huge challenges in the midst of the Partition of India. What type of research did you have to do to write Nisha’s story?

I had many discussions with my father. I talked to some additional family members, but sadly my grandparents and his older siblings, my three uncles, and aunt, aren’t living anymore.  I also read historical accounts, both political and personal, and watched several documentaries and fictional films on the subject to try to understand several perspectives. Though I was interested in the factual and political history, what I was most interested in was how an ordinary person, and particularly a young person, might have felt during this time, so I read as many personal survivor testimonies as I could.

I also wanted Nisha to be forced to confront her identity and sense of belonging in a more direct way than my father had to. I wanted her travel in the direction that a Hindu family would travel during that time, from Pakistan to India, because that’s the journey my father’s family took, and the one I was most familiar with. But I chose to make her mother Muslim, so when her country is split apart and Hindus and other religious groups such as Sikhs, are supposed to go in one direction and Muslims are supposed to go in another, she has to wonder, in a very personal way, where she belongs. I also come from a mixed background. My father is Hindu and grew up in India. My mother is Jewish and grew up in New York. I’ve had to question my sense of belonging my whole life, though the stakes are much higher for Nisha.

There is this kind of revolutionary spirit sweeping through the country. You tell a fascinating story about how Nisha believes in the possibility of putting her life back together during trying times. Why were you drawn to the time period of 1940s in the story, and how do you think the Partition story is relevant for kids in the present day?

First and foremost, I needed to understand what my father’s family went through, and honor not only their experience, but the millions who were affected by partition. I wanted to tell a partition story for young people who are connected to this history, to see a story about their family’s past. I also wanted to share it with those who don’t know anything about it. There’s so much we can learn from it.

I didn’t quite realize when I started writing about a refugee family traveling in dangerous, divisive times how relevant it would be to the present day global refugee crisis and the divisiveness and xenophobia growing louder in this country. I see many young people all around the world, discovering the strength and a voice they didn’t know they had like Nisha does.

How does Nisha come to terms with her haunting childhood memories and her new life as a refugee?

I think when one goes through such a life-altering crisis, it stays with you forever. You can never go back. You can only move forward through the altered space. Nisha will never be the same. My father also carries these memories with him and knows how fragile the world can be. I believe that understanding how quickly society can change for the worse, either makes a person fearful or more courageous. Imagining Nisha past this book, I think she chooses the later. She learns to rely on the strength of her own voice.

What do you want readers to take away from the book?

I think that Nisha doesn’t know how brave she is, but she finds the strength to keep that sense of hope as she writes in her diary at night and rises each morning to face her world and move forward. Even if one is not dealing with obstacles on the level that Nisha does in the book, we all have obstacles we face every day. I think to be brave enough to keep going, to stay hopeful, loving, and open-minded, is a courageous act. I see that energy all around me, especially in our younger generation, and it gives me a lot of hope.

For more about Veera and her work, visit her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter.

Thanks, Veera! 

Want to own your very own copy of The Night Diary? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on April 21, 2018 and will be contacted  via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

 

Interview and Giveaway with Author Karen Kane

I am excited to post my interview with author Karen Kane whose debut novel, Charlie & Frog (Disney-Hyperion), came out April 10. I had the pleasure of previewing this book and getting to hear the backstory.

Hi Karen! Please give us a short summary of the book.

Charlie has been dumped with his TV-obsessed grandparents in the village of Castle-on-the-Hudson. When an old woman disappears after giving Charlie a desperate message in sign language, Charlie is determined to find answers.

Frog, who is Deaf, would rather be solving crimes than working at the Flying Hands Café. When Charlie walks into the café looking for help, Frog jumps at the chance to tackle a real-life case.

Together, Charlie and Frog set out to decipher a series of clues and uncover the truth behind the mysterious message. Charlie needs to learn American Sign Language to keep up with Frog. And Frog needs to gather her detective know-how to break the case before it’s too late.

What two book titles and/or movie titles would you say Charlie & Frog is a cross between? 

My hope is that Charlie & Frog has the heart of Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World and the humor of Matilda.

Why did you choose the setting you did?

I choose to set Charlie & Frog in the Hudson Valley because, for some inexplicable reason, I have a soul connection with that part of New York. Maybe because it’s the home of one of my favorite detectives, Trixie Belden!

Is it based on any real location?

Castle-on-the-Hudson is a part Cold Spring, NY, part Cape May, NJ and part Pittsford, NY, the village where I grew up.

Would you say you’re more like Charlie or Frog? Why?

I am definitely more like Charlie. I have always had a deep-seated longing for connection and community—and like Charlie I had to learn to look inward to find it. Frog is super-confident and knows herself. I am becoming more like Frog, but I will never reach her level of moxie!

I love how Charlie & Frog has a main character who is deaf but that the book isn’t an issues book. And I thoroughly enjoyed how you could show conversations of characters without spoken words. I know you graduated from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and are a sign language interpreter. How did you become interested in working with people who are deaf?

True confession time: the real reason I became a sign language interpreter is because I failed microbiology in my 2nd year of nursing studies. There was no way I was taking that class again, so I changed my major to one that didn’t require microbiology to graduate—interpreting! I wish I had a more profound reason, but it was an intuitive decision. And the right decision because I have truly loved my work. And interpreting was what connected me to the community who inspired Charlie & Frog.

What research did you end up doing for this book that you didn’t realize you’d need to? What are you currently working on?

All the research I did for the book I ended up using—such as the Dewey decimal system, as well as some Deaf history. And I had Deaf readers give me feedback on how I portrayed Deaf characters and culture in Charlie & Frog.

I am currently writing the next Charlie & Frog book, tentatively called The Boney Hand. The second book happens in the fall, my favorite time of year.

After reading a book, I love knowing what was originally pitched when submitted. Do you remember what your elevator pitch was for Charlie & Frog? After editing, would you say your elevator pitch has changed?

I’m lousy at elevator pitches! Thank goodness I didn’t need one this time because I already had an agent, Jennifer Carlson, who had tried to sell my first book, The Hayley Show. Although Jennifer and I both loved it, we couldn’t find an editor who also did. Ten years later (!) I sent Jennifer Charlie & Frog, which I wrote while attending Vermont College of Fine Arts. This time we were lucky to find several editors who loved it as well. Tracey Keevan, at Disney Hyperion, bought it at auction.

If I did have an elevator pitch, it would still be the same pitch even after the editing process, because the heart and soul and humor of Charlie & Frog have never changed—they have only deepened.

Thank you, Karen, for letting me pick your brain! I highly recommend Charlie & Frog for middle grade readers.

A copy of Charlie & Frog will be given away to one lucky winner! Post a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Karen’s book (shipping within the U.S. only). 

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STEM Tuesday Field Work — Interview with Loree Griffin Burns

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing author Loree Griffin Burns who wrote this month’s featured book about real-life scientific field work, Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island.

The book takes place on an Icelandic island that’s only decades old. Readers join the scientists studying this new patch of land and the plants and animals that are colonizing it. Loree Griffin Burns earned science degrees from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of Massachusetts. Since then she’s been writing books and articles that celebrate our natural world and the people who study it. To research these stories, she’s beachcombed on both coasts, cruised the Pacific Ocean in search of plastic, surveyed birds in Central Park, stung herself with a honey bee, visited the Mexican wintering grounds of the monarch butterfly (on horseback!) and lived on a Costa Rican butterfly farm. Her latest book, Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island was named a 2017 best children’s nonfiction title by both Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal. Loree lives with her husband and three nearly-grown children in central Massachusetts.

 Mary Kay Carson: How did this book come about?

Loree Griffin Burns: In the spring of 2014, I had the opportunity to travel with my husband to Iceland. While we were there, we took a day-trip to the island of Heimaey, which is the largest of an archipelago off the southwestern coast of the country. It poured rain the entire time we were on Heimaey, so we toured by bus instead of on foot. At one point, as we rounded the southern end of the island, our bus driver pulled to the side of the road and pointed out to sea. “You see that island?” he asked. “The furthest one out?” We squinted through rain-soaked bus windows to see the rock he was talking about. “That’s Surtsey,” he said, “and I stood on the very spot this bus is parked, when I was a boy, and watched as it was born.” I knew the moment he said this that I’d just heard something incredibly special. I took out a notebook and started taking notes on everything he said from that moment on, including the fact that Surtsey was closed to all but the Icelandic scientists studying its transformation from a seething hunk of lava to an island that supported living, breathing organisms. As soon as I was home again, I began to research Surtsey’s story and became convinced it was the perfect subject for a ‘Scientists in the Field’ book. Once I’d convinced my editor of it too, I wrote to the Surtsey Research Society, the organization that controls access to the island as a research site, and pitched the idea the them. I was thrilled when they sent back an invitation to join an expedition the following summer.

MKC: Would you like to share a favorite part of spending time in the field researching this book?

Loree: I spent one working week, Monday through Friday, on Surtsey, as part of an expedition that included ten other scientists. Eight of those were Icelandic, and one was a Polish botanist who was living and working in Iceland at the time. Our team consisted of three women and seven men. Some of my favorite moments were getting to know the people I was with. As you’ll see when you read the book, I spent the most time with entomologists Erling Ólafsson and Matthais Alfredsson. But I got to know some other fascinating people, too. One of my favorite mornings was the one I spent with Lovisa Ásbjörnsdóttir, a geologist who has spent a lot of time on Surtsey. We hiked Austurbunki and Westurbunki together, mountains formed from Surtsey’s two volcanic cones, and spent several delightful hours sharing our work, our homelands, and what drew us each to Surtsey. Another highlight that didn’t make it into the book was my exploration inside the island. Underneath the hard lava crust of Surtsey is a network of lava tubes—tunnels through which molten lava once flowed but which now snake, empty and exploreable, underground. When botanist Paweł Wąsowicz first mentioned them to me, I didn’t believe him. And once I realized they existed, I was very nervous about checking them out. But I did, and it was an unforgettable experience.

Purchase a copy of  Life of Surtsey

MKC: Do you have a STEM background?

Loree: I do. I spent my twenties in a research lab studying the expression of genes in yeast cells and earning a PhD in biochemistry. So, science has been part of my life for a long time. I tell kids all the time that for me, science is not a subject, or a career, but a way of looking at the world, a way of asking questions about how it works, and then figuring out how to find the answers.

MKC: Could you give us a peek into your process by sharing how you’re tackling a current project?

Loree: I recently finished a picture book manuscript for older readers about fruit flies and how scientists came to realize they are a useful organism for studying DNA. I know. I know. It doesn’t sound like proper picture book material, does it? But it really is! The focus is entirely on the flies themselves, their bodies, their life cycles, their strange and adorable (!) laboratory habits, their easy to manipulate DNA. I think the right illustrator could have a great time with this book. (If you know one, send them my way.) While I try to find the perfect publishing home for the fruit fly book, I am working on another insect book: The Moth Ball. Coming from Charlesbridge in 2020, this book is an invitation into the nighttime exploits of the lesser-loved cousin of the butterfly: the moth. Right now, I’m reading up on moths and moth identification, and sketching out ideas for how best to structure a book that will excite readers about studying the moths in their own neighborhoods. The second spring finally arrives here in New England, photographer Ellen Harasimowicz and I will start calling moths into our own yards, using black lights and special sugar baits, and we’ll begin recording every moment for our book. We’re both pretty excited! What you can see from these two examples is that my bookmaking process involves a lot more than just writing. I spend a lot of time researching my subjects, by reading the words of other writers and by having my own first-hand experiences with the topic. I also spend time getting my finished manuscripts into the hands of publishers who can help me bring them to readers. This variety is one of the things I like about making books.

MKC: Any recommendations for readers who loved Life on Surtsey?

Loree: Nonfiction books are my passion, and titles I’ve loved lately include: Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d by Mary Losure; The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman; Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins; Seeing into Tomorrow: Haiku by Richard Wright, Illustrated by Nina Crews.

More about Life on Surtsey:

Win a FREE copy of  Life of SurtseyEnter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host this week is Mary Kay Carson, fellow nature geek, science nerd, and author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids.

 

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