Posts Tagged Middle Grade Historical Fiction

ELEANOR, ALICE, & THE ROOSEVELT GHOSTS ~ An Interview With Author Dianne Salerni

One of my favorite things to do is talk about spooky middle grade books! So welcome to my interview with author Dianne Salerni and her latest book release ELEANOR, ALICE, & THE ROOSEVELT GHOSTS.

The Book📚

Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt GhostsELEANOR, ALICE, & THE ROOSEVELT GHOSTS

by Dianne Salerni

It’s 1898 in New York City and ghosts exist among humans.

When an unusual spirit takes up residence at their aunt’s house, thirteen-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt and her cousin Alice are suspicious. The girls don’t get along, but they know something is not right. This ghost is more than a pesky nuisance. The authorities claim he’s safe to be around, even as his mischievous behavior grows stranger and more menacing. Could their aunt and her unborn child be in danger?

Meanwhile, Eleanor and Alice discover a vengeful ghost in the house where Alice was born and her mother died. Is someone else haunting the family? Introverted Eleanor and unruly Alice develop an unlikely friendship as they explore the family’s dark, complicated history.

A JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD GOLD STANDARD SELECTION

 

The Interview🎙️

It’s wonderful to chat with you again, Dianne! Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files. How about we begin by you telling our readers a bit about your two main characters, Eleanor and Alice.

Eleanor and Alice Roosevelt were both touched by tragedy when very young. Eleanor was orphaned by the age of eight and thereafter lived with an oppressive grandmother. Alice’s mother died shortly after her birth, and Alice thereafter viewed herself as an extra appendage in a large family consisting of an acerbic step-mother, five half-siblings, and a distant father.

Both girls felt abandoned, unloved, and unworthy. However, this manifested differently in the two girls. While Eleanor was introverted, awkward, and tried to blend into the wallpaper, Alice acted out in so many outlandish ways that relations described her as a guttersnipe, a hellion, and a wild animal put into good clothes.

I will say that I loved how you portrayed the girls so differently. Yet, as the story moves forward, their similarities also come to a ghostly light.👻

What five words best describes Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghost?

Feisty females versus deceitful ghosts.

Ooh . . . perfect!

Like most of your books, Eleanor’s story is grounded in historical elements. How do you see the value in history and its importance to stories like Eleanor’s?

Every time we remember that historical people were no different from people today – in temperament, in complexity, in motivation – we learn more about ourselves and our future. In fact, the appeal of the musical Hamilton is in how it humanizes people who have otherwise been reduced to icons by the weight of U.S. history. So, when we look at an inspirational American figure like Eleanor Roosevelt and remember that she was once a neglected, insecure adolescent, I pray that it gives hope to the neglected and insecure adolescents of today.

You share this really cool ghost or entity lamp in the book. Please tell the readers about it.

The Edison Lamp is a made-up invention in my alternate history. It detects the “eruption” of a ghost in a house, which seems like the sort of practical device Thomas Edison would invent in this alternate reality. The timely detection of a new haunting is essential for survival, because some ghosts are deadly.  Consider the Edison Lamp the equivalent to a smoke alarm or CO2 detector.

This was one of my favorite elements of the book! It’s super cool.

Did you discover any other eerie gadgets from the past?

In approximately 1901, Nikola Tesla invented a very basic radio receiver that was open to a wide range of frequencies. (For real, not just in my alternate history.) Apparently, the noises he picked up on this receiver disturbed him. He wrote, “My first observations positively terrified me as there was present in them something mysterious, not to say supernatural, and I was alone in my laboratory at night.”

Tesla historians later dubbed this device a “spirit radio.” I borrowed this invention for Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts, although I had to move the invention to 1898 and couldn’t call it a “spirit radio,” since radios hadn’t been invented yet.

“What is that?” Alice wants to know.

“A spirit telegraph,” Miss Bly says jokingly.

“It’s a means of hearing what the house has to say,” Tesla corrects her.

I remember reading something years ago about a “spirit radio”. Like I mentioned – super cool. You inserted a fun and effective ‘ghost world’ into your real-world building. Would you share how you made it all fit together?

I started with the children’s primer, Types of Ghosts and How They Fade, which was the very first thing I wrote when I started brainstorming this book. It describes the types of ghosts: Friendly, Unaware, and Vengeful. Since my premise is that ghosts are part of ordinary life, I set about weaving ghosts into the fabric of this world. Ex: a nursery rhyme to teach the children the types of ghosts, technology to detect ghosts, ghosts inserted into well-known literature (I tweaked Great Expectations), government agencies to deal with hauntings, ghosts inserted into historical events (Was the U.S.S. Maine destroyed by a Vengeful?), and even a branch of law enforcement called SWAT teams – Supernatural Weapons and Tactics.

What was the hardest part about writing this book?

In question #6, I described what was necessary to weave ghosts into this world. This book contains interstitial material – text between the chapters – consisting of newspaper articles and ads, letters, and census tables. Earlier versions went a little overboard. I included extra world-building interstitial material like textbook excerpts, slightly altered contemporary literature, etc. But it was too much.

The hardest part was letting go of all the world-building content that didn’t enhance or advance the story – no matter how clever (sob!) it was.

Ooh, I hope you saved that WB content for another story!

For Our Teachers and Authors🍎🏫🎒

As a former schoolteacher, what do you see as the greatest challenge for students, today?

This year, it’s the same as it is for the rest of us – grief for the loss of our lives before the pandemic. Extroverts are feeling it the worst, I believe. But even introverts—like me and Eleanor—are feeling the loss of everything we hoped to do and can’t. Whatever we can do to encourage and maintain personal connections with even the shyest of us students is more essential than ever.

With the current educational challenges facing teachers and parents, how can they encourage middle schoolers to engage in more independent reading and writing?

Authors have been available to readers online since the advent of social media, and many readers (on their own or encouraged by teachers) have used this opportunity to connect. But others have not, simply through lack of time. Now that so much of the educational experience is, by necessity, online, why not make use of that opportunity? If authors are offering virtual visits and online workshops, schedule them! If there are writing opportunities – contests, NaNoWriMo, seminars – help students connect with them.

Inquiring Minds Want To Know🦋

From your personal experience, what middle grade book is a must read?

With a publication date of 2000, it’s getting dated, but during my last ten years of teaching, I read No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman aloud to both my reading classes at the beginning of every year. Written in 4 different POVs (including an adult – gasp! – isn’t that forbidden in MG books?!), it’s not only an opportunity for POV discussion but also a remarkably funny mystery and scathing review on classic literature. In the words of protagonist Wallace Wallace:“The dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.”

*Note to self – No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman

Have to ask: do YOU believe in ghosts?

I didn’t. I was a big skeptic, until I took a ghost hunting class from my local community college, went on a field trip to a supposedly haunted house, and came back with an unexplained voice on my audio recording. Nobody else who was present recorded this voice. The other recordings registered silence while mine – and only mine – includes a ghostly but humorous message.

You can hear the whole story AND the ghost voice on my YouTube video: https://tinyurl.com/yxnhjgja

Whoa . . . Everyone, you can head over to watch right after our last question. I know I’m going to check it out.

Lastly, what can readers expect to see from you next?🔮

My next book, Jadie in Five Dimensions, will be published in the fall of 2021 from Holiday House. It’s a twisty, multi-dimensional sci-fi adventure based on the premise that our 3-dimensional universe exists inside a larger 4-dimensional universe, the way Russian dolls nest together.

Jadie Martin, an abandoned infant, was rescued from certain death by benevolent beings from the fourth dimension and placed into a loving adoptive family. Now age 13, Jadie serves as an Agent for the four-dimensional Overseers, performing missions calculated to guide her world toward a brighter future.

Except — when Jadie switches assignments with another Agent, she discovers her origin story is a lie. Her birth family has suffered multiple tragedies engineered from 4-space, including the loss of their baby girl. Now doubting her benefactors, Jadie anonymously observes her long-lost family. Why are they important? What are the true intentions of the Overseers? And what will huge, all-powerful four-dimensional beings do to a small rebellious human girl when they realize she’s interfering with their plans?

This sounds so exciting! Can’t wait to read. Thank you so much for joining us and for sharing Eleanor and Alice’s story with us. 

If you’d like to read about another #spookymg book, you can go HERE.

About The Author✒️

DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of middle grade and YA novels, including Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts, The Eighth DayAuthor Dianne Salerni Series, The Caged Graves, and We Hear the Dead. Her seventh book, Jadie in Five Dimensions, will release in the fall of 2021. Dianne was a public school teacher for 25 years before leaving the profession to spend more time hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research. WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER

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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.

 

Historical Fiction: A century of characters you ought to know

Sure, historical fiction has the power to transport you to a different era, immerse you in a new situation and maybe teach you a lesson along the way. But that’s probably not how middle grade readers describe why they like certain books. Most likely, they’ll talk about the characters, and maybe about the setting, and most certainly slip in some insights about how things were different — and how feelings were very much the same as now — so long ago. When historical middle grade is at its best, readers connect and can imagine themselves in that world, in that situation.

Looking back to the last century, here are 10 books — one set in each decade — to fuel that imagination and ground compassion.

What are your favorite middle grade novels set in 20th century decades? It would be wonderful to get your ideas in the comments, and have this as a resource for teachers, librarians, and parents — and the middle grade readers in our lives.