To celebrate the release of Ensnared by Ann Bausum on January 12th, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive articles from Ann, plus 5 chances to win a hardcover copy!
Picturing the Past
by Ann Bausum
Often the best way to bring history alive is to share it through the eyes of people who witnessed it happening. Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair is bursting with cherished photos, personal recollections, and primary source documents about the family punishments that followed the failed attempt to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944. Although the book focuses on a handful of affected families, I deliberately folded breadcrumbs into its pages about many others. Savvy readers can trace additional relationships using these embedded strands of history.
Consider the Hayessen family, for example. Although the children are never specifically mentioned in the main text, readers can learn about them by using visual clues and the book’s supplemental reference material. Take a good look at the meticulous inventory of families that appears in the back matter. Not only do readers discover the names, ages, and genders of each person; the itemized listing includes a key that helps to identify their individual fates.
By consulting this guide, we can surmise that Hans-Hayo Hayessen, the oldest child in the family at age two, had probably barely begun to talk by the time of his family punishment detention. Volker, at age nine months, was unlikely to even be walking. We can tell from the Hayessen family listing that the boys’ father died because of his involvement in the attempted coup, and their mother was detained.
Using the book’s index we are taken to the last photo ever taken of the family. This image captures an ordinary family moment that would, within months, be impossible to regain. The facing page authenticates some of the family’s trials by showing the certificate Margarete Hayessen received when she was discharged from Ravensbrück concentration camp.
BTW—here’s a tip to keep in mind when reading German dates: Europeans typically present the date and month in the reverse order from the American pattern. So the day shown on her discharge certificate of 6–10–44 represents the date October 6, 1944.
Would you like to follow some more breadcrumbs?
Let’s start with Dagmar Hansen. We can tell from the itemized listing of families that she was a newborn during this period, and this fact is reinforced several times in the text. By using the index we can find a family photo that predates her birth, and we can read about how her christening served as an alibi for her father on the day that the conspiracy unfolded. Subsequent text references are indexed in the book, including the revelation that Gestapo agents took Dagmar away from her mother when the girl was just two weeks old.
Visitors to my author website will find a series of classroom suggestions for Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair. Among other ideas I challenge students to research various families using the book and other resources. A good first stop beyond my book is the German Resistance Memorial Center in Berlin. If the site displays in German, click the EN option in the upper access menu to switch the text to English. Then use the BIOGRAPHIES tab that appears at left in the home menu to find brief biographical essays about all coup conspirators.
Are you curious about other family members? Savvy internet users will discover that one of the 46 detained children became a famous German model and actress. (Hint: you’ll find a childhood photo of her on page 44.)
“I’ve come on orders from Berlin to fetch the three children.” –Gestapo agent, August 24, 1944
With those chilling words Christa von Hofacker and her younger siblings found themselves ensnared in a web of family punishment designed to please one man—Adolf Hitler. The furious dictator sought merciless revenge against not only Christa’s father and the other Germans who had just tried to overthrow his government. He wanted to torment their relatives, too, regardless of age or stature. All of them. Including every last child.
During the summer of 1944, a secretive network of German officers and civilians conspired to assassinate Adolf Hitler. But their plot to attack the dictator at his Wolf’s Lair compound failed, and an enraged Hitler demanded revenge. The result was a systematic rampage of punishment that ensnared not only those who had tried to topple the regime but their far-flung family members too. Within weeks, Gestapo agents had taken as many as 200 relatives from their homes, separating adults and children.
Using rare photographs and personal interviews with survivors, award-winning author Ann Bausum presents the spine-chilling little-known story of the failed Operation Valkyrie plot, the revenge it triggered, and the families caught in the fray.
ANN BAUSUM is an award-winning children’s book author who brings history alive by connecting readers to personal stories from the past that echo in the present day. Ensnared is her 11th book for National Geographic Kids and her fourth look at international history. While researching the book, she traveled twice to Europe to get to know the people and places that became intertwined in 1944 after the failed effort to kill Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair. Previously Bausum has explored international history with such works as Stubby the War Dog; Denied, Detained, Deported; and Unraveling Freedom. Many of her books highlight themes of social justice, including her National Geographic title The March Against Fear. In 2017, her body of work was honored by the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC. Individual titles have won numerous starred reviews and been recognized with a Sibert Honor Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the Carter G. Woodson Award, and the SCBWI Golden Kite Award, among other distinctions.
One (1) winner will receive a hardcover copy of Ensnared
Check out the other four stops for more chances to win
“Movement caught Sam’s eye. Farther down the beach, a shadowy figure walked along the dock that jutted out from the shore. A small boat rocked on the water. The figure climbed in, untied the boat, and rowed away, disappearing into the fog.”
Goose bumps courtesy of Samantha Sea Wells and Donna Galanti! Donna’s new book, Unicorn Island, takes readers on a mystery adventure that blends vivid settings, cool characters, rich sensory detail, and mythological magic. What’s not to love?
I had a chance to catch up with Mixed Up Files member and accomplished MG writer Donna G. to talk about Unicorn Island, learn how it came to be, and discover the author’s fave creature from the realms of myth! Check out Donna’s giveaway at the bottom where she is giving away one copy of the illustrated hardcover of Unicorn Island by Andrews McMeel Publishing (Simon & Schuster). Enter by Feb. 16th. U.S./Canada only.
Sean McCollum: Hi Donna! I loved Unicorn Island and it hit all my feels … the displaced young heroine, the budding friendship, the brooding uncle, the mystery to be solved. (And the illustrations are fantastic!) Most stories have a seed, that moment when the idea first sprouted. Do you remember when that happened with this book? And how long did it take to grow?
Donna Galanti: I’m so glad it hit the feels for you, Sean! The idea actually came over lunch with my publisher! He threw out there that he’d like me to write a book “about a girl who has to take care of a unicorn.” From that, we spent six months bashing around the concept and then my amazing editor helped me polish it more. We wanted to write a story with a strong girl character but one that appealed to all genders. I love stories that are magical but also set in the real world—and that’s what guided me.
SM: The setting plays a big part in this story. Why did you set it in this coastal community—Foggy Harbor, South Carolina? Is it based in any places that are near and dear to you?
DG: I actually had first conceived it being off the coast of Maine (one of my favorite places to visit!) but with other potential seasonal book ideas in mind for the series, I didn’t think that would work so much with the cold season up north. The characters definitely couldn’t cross the sea to an island in a freezing November wind! My dad lives in North Carolina not far from the border of South Carolina, a similar setting, and so that’s what changed it. I loved the idea of placing the story in a sultry climate with mysterious live oak trees added in (they always remind me of ancient wizards with their dripping beards and gnarled branches).
SM: Sam has got some serious spunk and a sense of adventure. How much of Donna G. is in her fearless nature and love of the outdoors?
DG: Oh, so much of Donna G. in Sam! I am an avid outdoors person. Biking, kayaking, hiking. I find peace and inspiration in nature. I’m lucky to have an old growth forest nearby and miles of trails through meadows, woods, and along creeks. As an only child growing up on a mountain in Upstate New York, my playground was the forest. I spent my days roaming along old rock walls with my dogs, gazing up at the sky from secret spots, and writing my poems and stories in the nooks of old oaks. I also used to sing songs to the woods. I still walk in the woods nearly every day alone for hours with my Irish blackthorn walking stick, but listen to the trees sing now.
Hiking with my blackthorn walking stick at The Highlights Foundation!
SM: Hope it’s not a spoiler, but there be unicorns in this book. Why do you think we’re fascinated by mythical creatures and their realms? And what do they mean to you? (Oh, and if you could be a mythical character or creature, what would you choose and why?)
DG: I love mythology! Whether it’s unicorns or Greek mythology, which plays a bit part in my Lightning Road series. I think stories that are grounded in mythology and folklore resonate so much with younger readers because they are ageless. They deal with universal truths that tweens are experiencing themselves in both painful and wonderful ways: conflict, love, loss, and friendship. Kids can totally relate to these topics!
I also think, authors can turn to folklore and mythology to write with diversity in mind. I turn to mythic story structure and archetypes to help shape my characters’ journey. I’m especially drawn to the Hero, the Sage, the Warrior, and the Destroyer. Quest stories with these characters are among my favorites, like with King Arthur and Beowulf but also in modern times, like with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. I love reading and writing about the archetypal hero on a quest, to follow them through a transformative journey that tests them and witness them re-emerge changed on the other side.
As far as being a mythical creature, I would choose to be a phoenix from Greek folklore. How amazing it would be to obtain new life and arise from the ashes once more!
SM: I often find I learn something about myself or the process of writing when I write. Did Unicorn Island reveal anything new to you about yourself or your work?
DG: Absolutely! It taught me that I can write a story fast when I need to under deadline—and still be immersed in the story and fall in love with the characters. To write it quickly I escaped on retreat for a week to do it. In doing this, I returned to the time when I first fell in love with writing and had no distractions. It brought back that time when I wasn’t part of a greater writing world—I just wanted to be a storyteller. I didn’t know much about craft then, and it was just me and the page. A special place. 😊
SM: Tell us about your journey as a writer. Why did you gravitate toward writing for young readers, and what inspires you now?
DG: I wanted to be a writer ever since I fell in love with the world of Narnia at seven with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My hero in it was Aslan, and I even got a lion ring to honor him. I think because of this, I mostly turned to writing fantasy. My first short story was about a flying ship, a Dodo bird, and a wizard. I still have all my childhood stories today. But funny enough when it came to writing books, I started out writing thrillers for adults. I had a young voice in my first thriller and my editor at the time told me that I had a wonderful young voice—so I decided to explore this. I took a class on writing a children’s book in seven months, and did just that! This book, Joshua and the Lightning Road, got me my first agent and book deal. I quickly fell back in love with middle grade and that’s where I’ve been ever since! And actually, I’ve applied what I learned to write thrillers for adults to write thrilling adventures for kids.
Me wearing my lion ring as a tribute to Narnia!
SM: I remember so many of the MG books I loved as a kid and the worlds and ideas they opened to me. Is there something special about this age group that appeals to you as a writer? And do you have a favorite MG book or author that you return too for inspiration?
DG: Middle grade readers tend to live life more in the moment than other readers and that appeals to me. It can seem vivid and intense when you experience life this way. I love that kids read to make strong, lasting bonds with characters and stories, which is why series are so popular. I still re-read my favorite childhood books that are on my shelf like the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (my mom made me a prairie dress outfit!) and Danny The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. A favorite book I re-read every Christmas is The Children of Green Knowe by L.M Boston. It has all things I love: a castle, ghosts, adventure, medieval flavor. Plus, it appeals to me as the main character is an only child seeking adventure on his own—which was me growing up.
Here I am wearing my Laura Ingalls outfit.
SM: I need to know—will there be more books in the Unicorn Island series?
DG: Yes! The next book, Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand, comes out digitally in a 5-part serial this May on the Epic! platform with the hardcover compilation to follow in winter 2022. I won’t give anything away, but it’s full of new mysteries, characters, and creatures. It was so fun to write!
SM: Can’t wait to see where your imagination takes us, Donna. Thanks so much for sharing, and good luck to you … and Sam … and the creatures of Unicorn Island!
DG: Thanks for chatting with me about Unicorn Island!
SUMMARY OF UNICORN ISLAND: Beyond the mist lies a magical secret waiting to be discovered. Unicorn Island is a middle-grade illustrated novel series about a young girl who discovers a mysterious island full of mythical beasts and darker dangers! When Sam arrives in Foggy Harbor, population 3,230, all she can see is a small, boring town that’s way too far from home. And knowing that she’s stuck there all summer with her grumpy Uncle Mitch only makes things worse. But when Sam discovers a hidden trapdoor leading to a room full of strange artifacts, she realizes Foggy Harbor isn’t as sleepy as it seems. With the help of a new friend, Sam discovers an extraordinary secret beyond the fog: an island of unicorns whose fates are intertwined with hers.
“An accessible and fast-paced magical adventure.” – Kirkus Reviews
“An all-too-human, enchanting middle grade fantasy novel.” – Forward Reviews
“What begins as realistic fiction turns to a fantastical tale of magical rescue. Fans of unicorns and magic in the real world will enjoy this adventure.” – School Library Journal
Grade Level: 4 – 6
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing (Simon & Schuster) Available through booksellers here
Donna Galanti is the author of the fantasy adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road, which the Midwest Book Review called, “A heart-pounding thrill ride full of unexpected twists and turns from start to finish”. She’s also the author of the follow up, Joshua and the Arrow Realm, and writes the popular Unicorn Island series for Epic, the leading digital platform for kids 12 and under. Donna loves to present as a guest author at schools and teach writers at conferences and through her online courses. Donna has lived in England, her family-owned campground in New Hampshire, and Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Visit her here: TwitterInstagramFacebookdonnagalanti.com
I was thrilled to be able to read Alan Gratz’ new book, Ground Zero. His books are so awesome! Such fun and exciting reads. And this one is no different. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to read about 9/11. Yes, it’s been 20 years, but like most of us, there are a lot of emotions tied up in that very difficult day. But Alan did a fantastic job with this book! He did a great job of handling the facts of the event, while masterfully weaving together two different action-packed stories. He kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next. Of course, if you read Alan’s other books, you’ve seen this type of heart-pounding action before.
In time for the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, master storyteller Alan Gratz (Refugee) delivers a pulse-pounding and unforgettable take on history and hope, revenge and fear — and the stunning links between the past and present.
September 11, 2001, New York City: Brandon is visiting his dad at work, on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. Out of nowhere, an airplane slams into the tower, creating a fiery nightmare of terror and confusion. And Brandon is in the middle of it all. Can he survive — and escape?
September 11, 2019, Afghanistan: Reshmina has grown up in the shadow of war, but she dreams of peace and progress. When a battle erupts in her village, Reshmina stumbles upon a wounded American soldier named Taz. Should she help Taz — and put herself and her family in mortal danger?
Two kids. One devastating day. Nothing will ever be the same.
“The pace is quick (don’t blink or you’ll miss something!), its emotions deeply authentic, and the highly visual settings resonate with accuracy. With a moving author’s note, pertinent back matter, and a surprise twist which brings the book full circle, Gratz delivers another winning read.” — Booklist, starred review
“Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11.” — Kirkus Reviews
Alan was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions about this amazing book:
Ground Zero was an amazing read, but a bit difficult for us who remember so vividly that very dark day. Was it hard to do the research for this book? To relive 9/11 all over again?
Yes. I thought, “Oh, twenty years have passed. This won’t be any harder than anything else I’ve written about.” But I was wrong. It was very difficult, emotionally, for me to research and write this book. 9/11 is still such a raw nerve for me, it turns out–and for many of us who lived through it. And I wasn’t even in New York or Pennsylvania or the Pentagon, and didn’t have my own personal connection to it! But like so many Americans, I felt like part of me had been carved out by the events of that day, and it took a long time to fill that hollowness back in. It turns out, it still hadn’t entirely been filled in. At the same time, I knew that for today’s middle schoolers, 9/11 is ancient history. It happened before they were born. They don’t have that same visceral reaction to reading about it or thinking about it as adults do. And it was important to try to show them how that feels for me and so many other adults, especially as many of us still have trouble talking about it.
I love how you weave two different storylines with their own characters together. You keep the suspense going in both at the same time. Do you write each storyline by itself first? Or do the two stories come to you at the same time?
When I’m writing multiple, parallel POVs, I start by researching and thinking about the story for each. I haven’t figured out every beat of the stories at this point; I don’t know every chapter. But I’ll figure out what the larger story is for each kid. I’m definitely looking for parallels throughout. “Oh, here they both see a helicopter. Oh, here they’re both trapped in a dark place underground. Oh, here they see their world come tumbling down.” Little parallels too. “Oh, here Brandon mentions toy Wolverine gloves, and here Reshmina puts sticks in between her fingers and pretends to attack her brother like a giant cat.” Then I’ll put together the individual chapter outline for one of the stories–often the first of the stories we’ll read in the book. In Refugee, that’s Josef’s story. In Grenade, it’s Hideki’s. In Ground Zero, it’s Brandon’s. I plot that story out all the way. Then I go back and start plotting the details of the next story. That way I can build in parallels and connections to the first, but with an idea already where I want to go overall. I think if I were building two or more stories at once, simultaneously, I might be too tempted to pull off in different directions that then don’t connect in the end. It’s tricky, but researching and having a strong idea of each story first and then building each one separately seems to work best for me. When I write the actual book though, I write it straight through, jumping from character to character, because I want the whole book to feel like one story. One novel. Not two or three separate stories I mashed together.
The storyline of the girl in Afghanistan is so vivid and real. Where did you find the research on Afghanistan? Did you contact people who lived there?
Thanks. For the Afghanistan War side of the story, I relied heavily on the amazing reporting that’s still being done by newspapers and magazines and radio and TV networks around the world. That war’s been going on so long that there are already lots of books about it too. And thanks to contacts I’ve made at UNICEF due to my work with Refugee, I was also able to speak via Zoom with the UNICEF team on the ground in Afghanistan to get a better idea about the situation there now. The World Trade Center side of the story has of course been covered extensively here in the United States. I read a number of books that went into great detail about what happened before, during, and after that day, but it was the first hand accounts from survivors that were the most important part of my research. Everything that happens in my story really happened to people inside the Twin Towers that day.
You write about some amazing places in the world, not just in this book, but in all of your books. How do you learn so much about them to give such distinct details? Are you able to visit them?
I almost never get to visit the places I write about, unless it’s after the fact! Which I regret. But my deadlines are often such that I don’t have a lot of time to travel as a part of my research, and of course there’s the cost of visiting far-flung places. I wish I could! In the case of Afghanistan, of course, that’s not a place I would visit now even if I could. The 2020 Global Peace Index ranks Afghanistan as the most dangerous country in the world. I hope Afghanistan is one day peaceful again, and that I’m able to visit. To make up for not visiting, I try to learn as much about a place and a people as possible through books and interviews and other media. Not just the historical events I’m writing about, but everything from the food they eat to the religion they practice to the music they make and the stories they tell. And more, of course. Not all of that will make it into the book, of course. It can’t. But I want to get to know a place and a people as much as possible before I write about them. Most importantly, that includes how they think. It’s a terrible mistake to assume that another culture shares the same attitudes and beliefs and values that you do–and worse, to assume that YOUR attitudes and beliefs and values are the “right” ones. In everything I read and learn about a place and a people, I’m trying to empathize with them as much as possible, and see life through their eyes, not mine. That is, after all, what I’m hoping to help my young readers see too.
I have read that you use a storyboard to brainstorm ideas and write extensive outlines for your books before you even start writing. How does that help you to see the story?
Outlining helps me see the larger path a story is taking. It helps me see the plot twists and emotional beats in a story from high above, and make sure I have those well-paced throughout the story. Outlining helps me see if I’ve taken too long to move from Act One to Act Two, if I’m spending too long (or too short a time) in Act Two, and if Act Three is too quick or too slow. I can see the parallels I build into my multiple POV stories. Outlining also helps me keep track of secondary characters and storylines, and make sure I haven’t gone too long without returning to them. My outline board helps me save time too. I don’t end up doing as much wholesale rewriting when I have taken the time to hammer out plot decisions in advance. I still do a LOT of rewriting, of course. And some of the outlined plot will change in revisions. But I can generally get most of the big problems figured out before I ever write the first word of the actual book.
Do you have any tips to give writers who might like to write books like yours?
I like the way you ask that: “writers who might like to write books like mine.” Because there are as many different ways to write books as there are authors, of course, and no one way is the right way. But if you’re looking to write books like I do… Get to the action early and often. Be accurate where it matters, but don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. Make your story more about the individual characters than the moment in history. And perhaps most importantly, have something to say. Don’t just tell an action-packed story. Have a theme. A message beyond the action and the thrills. Refugee challenges young readers to see the plight of otherwise invisible refugees and open their hearts and communities to them. Grenade says, “Hey, war isn’t all fun and games, and look what happens to the people caught in the middle.” Allies says we’re stronger when we work together. And similarly, Ground Zero says “It’s not us against the world. It has to be everyone, working together. That’s how we survive.” What is your story about? Answer that, and make sure you return to that question or idea or theme throughout your book. Then you’ll have a book your readers really can’t put down.
Excellent interview, Alan! Thanks so much.Alan’s publisher, Scholastic Press is offering a giveaway of 1 copy of the book. To enter, leave a comment below and/or tag @mixedupfiles on Twitter.
From the Mixed-Up Files is the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting.
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