Celebrating TENTH ANNIVERSARY of Odin’s Promise

Happy Anniversary to Odin’s Promise, the novel I thought might never be! Take a look at a giveaway opportunity, and then read on to learn more about this wild past year in my life! When I invite folks to subscribe to my newsletter (see the right margin >>>>) I promise I will not be flooding their inboxes with newsletters. Hmmm… I kept that promise, right? This is the first newsletter in nearly a year! But some things are worthy of a new edition and  an effort to call more attention to it here! Add any kind of comment below this post to be entered in two giveaways, with the drawing scheduled for  MAY 17, Norway’s SYTTENDE MAI, Constitution Day. (Ideas to comment: Have you read Odin’s Promise? Any of the other books in the trilogy? Recommend other favorites titles on the topic of WWII? Or just post a lively congrats- all will be welcome!)

The 2014 book launch for my debut novel was one of the happiest events ever. Friends from many walks of life took time to join the original celebration, including my excellent editor, the late Philip Martin.

After working for so many years on research and writing, after so many false starts and near misses, holding ODIN’S PROMISE in my hands was thrilling. I was infinitely grateful that evening, and continue to feel that way to this day. So many people helped to make it possible: critique partners, SCBWI friends and resources, my editor, and the “dream team” of volunteer friends who hosted that night and cheered me on.

During the Q&A that followed my reading and comments, one preview reader asked when the sequel would be released. After spending forever getting the first year of German occupation of Norway to publication, I hadn’t even considered writing more on the topic. With the encouragement of other readers and support of my editor, I dove into more research and had long “talks” with my characters. The trilogy was completed in 2017, Norway was finally free again

Check out some photos from that special night (and the eventual books). Please read on to learn about giveaways and a few updates about my life!

GIVEAWAYS!      Anniversary Celebration!

WIN a complete trilogy set of my novels, autographed to you!

(US Postal addresses only.)

How to win?

Comment on my webpage (SandyBrehlBooks.com) click THE OPEN BOOK tab, then click news and updates.

Portions of this newsletter are posted there and each comment will be an entry in the giveaway.

Here’s the link: https://sandybrehlbooks.com/category/news-and-updates/

A random drawing from names of all who comment will take place on (of course) Syttende Mai (May 17). I’m excited to share the news of winners!

(of course) Syttende Mai (May 17). I’m excited to share the news of winners!

DEMENTIA: Historical Fiction Opens Portals to Memory

Bear with me while I share a touching and entirely unexpected experience. A few details have been blurred, to assure privacy, but the underlying events in this account are true.

Earlier this spring, a writing friend reached out to say how grateful she is for my book. She was referring to ODIN’S PROMISE. She and her partner are caregivers for an older relative, someone whose entire life exemplified intellect, creativity, socializing, and service. Until recent years.

Dementia (or something like it) has reduced this gifted individual  to one who spent each day in a state of agitation, distraction, and confusion. Providing for her physical needs was manageable, but they had found nothing to entertain or occupy this woman’s time and thoughts,  even for brief periods of time. Nothing to relieve endless hours of emptiness in her life. Nearly constant unsettled anxiety resulted. Attempts to share music, screen options, crafts or other hands-on work, or even simple conversations or games were met with resistance or disengagement.

My friend’s note let me know that she had tried offering a middle grade historical novel of medium length, with depictions of the era when that elder would have been a young girl. She read it eagerly, more than once.  The search was on to find another novel that might be equally appealing. When ODIN’S PROMISE came to mind, my friend provided a copy. The newly-enthused reader dove in, filling hour after hour with attentive reading, offering comments throughout. Even later in that day or beyond, she was able and eager to recall names and events from the book and talk about details.

When I learned this, and that she was re-reading my book time after time, I sent the next two titles in the trilogy with a personal note of thanks. Since then I’ve heard that she devoured the entire trilogy and returned to reading it several times. My friend, an avid reader herself, continues to provide other historical novels from time periods that will resonate with her loved one’s early years.

The change in quality of their days sounds extraordinary. This is an entirely anecdotal account, so we can’t draw scientific conclusions about the practice. Much could depend on the prior reading life and interests of the person affected by diminishing memory and  cognitive function. It is such a simple idea, though, that I urge others to give this a try.

My recommendation is to begin by listing  factors from the affected person’s background, whether a loved one or someone in a care setting. Perhaps a particular sport, or hobby,  location, or family setting could be the key to an initial search for appealing titles. The middle grade focus allows for shorter but sustained text, language that is broad but manageable, without unrealistic  vocabulary challenges, and characters whose lives reflect a memorable time, early adolescence.  The plots are complex enough to feel authentic (not insultingly simple) but with limited undercurrents and subplot threads to confuse or overwhelm. For anyone who might have struggled with reading when younger, think about providing audio books, or large-print versions, or pair both so the reader can follow along with the audio recording more successfully.

I’ll provide a few title suggestions below, but take full advantage of your area’s public  librarians. I’m certain that their suggestions will be abundant, especially if you describe the target reader and purpose for your search. Also click my reviews on this blog for other recommended titles. And don’t overlook the appeal of books that would have been contemporary during the person’s youth but now are clearly describing a bygone era. They may recall the beloved characters as if childhood friends!

Historical Fiction

Some World War II titles:

Almost Autumn. Kaurin, Marianne. Arthur A. Levine Books (translation), 2016.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Frank, Anne, and Mooyaart, B.M.  Bantam Books. (Reissue in 1993)

(The) Book Thief. Zusak, Markus. Alfred A. Knopf. (Reissued in 2007)

(The) Boy Who Dared: A novel based on the true story of a Hitler youth. Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Scholastic Press, 2008.

(The) Devil’s Arithmetic. Yolen, Jane. Puffin Books. (Reprint 1990)

(A) Faraway island. Thor, Annika. Delacorte Press, 2009.

Hidden. Dauvillier, Loie. Lizano, Marc. Salsedo, Greg. (Graphic Novel). First:Second, 2012.

 (The) Klipfish Code. Cassanova, Mary. HMH Books for Young Readers. 2012.

Number the Stars. Lowry, Lois. HMH Books for Young Readers. 1990.

Shadow on the Mountain. Preuss, Margi. Harry N. Abrams. 2014..

Twenty and Ten. Bishop, Claire Huchet. Puffin Books (Reissued in 1978)

 

Stories Based in America:

Cold War on Maplewood Street. Gayle Rosengren. 2015 (Cuban Missile Crisis)

DASH. Kirby Larson. (Dogs of World War II) 2014

The Star That Always Stays. Anna Rose Johnson. 2022

The Miner’s Lament: A Story of Latina Activists in the Empire Zinc Mine Strike.

Judy Dodge Cummings. 2021

On the Horizon. Lois Lowry. 2019

One Came Home. Amy Timberlake. 2013

Wolf Hollow. Lauren Wolk. 2016

 

Possible Childhood Favorites (many with humor, many still read by kids today)

Boxcar Children. Gertrude Chandler Warner

Henry Huggins. Beverly Cleary. (also, HENRY and RIBSY, RAMONA AND BEEZUS, RALPH S. MOUSE, and so many more)

Homer Price. Robert McCloskey

Charlotte’s Web. E. B. White.

Magic Treehouse Books. Mary Pope Osbourne

Stuart Little. E. B. White

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. C. S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia)

(Series titles are always a good idea, because the setting and charactersmove along from book to book, supporting understanding and memory.)

If you try this out, and find success, please comment below, and  share your experiences with others who might be caregivers, too. From the descriptions by my friend, the quality of life and peace of mind improved not only for that affected family member, but for the caregivers, too.

 

HIDDEN HOPES: A Holocaust Story of Resistance and Secrecy

HIDDEN HOPE HOW A TOY AND A HERO SAVED LIVES DURING THE HOLOCAUST By Elisa Boxer Illustrator Amy June Bates

 

HIDDEN HOPE
HOW A TOY AND A HERO SAVED LIVES DURING THE HOLOCAUST
By Elisa Boxer
Illustrator Amy June Bates

Picture Book, Nonfiction, 2023

Abrams Books for Young Readers

World War II, France, Resistance

 

That attractive teenage girl on the cover is clutching a wooden duck toy. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? It certainly seemed so to me, especially in times of the utmost suspicions and inspections: during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. But Jacqueline Gauthier’s story, her assumed name, and false professional identity made the toy duck more plausible.

In this lesser-known story of Holocaust resistance, the opening pages reveal the harsh truth of search, capture, and arrests of French Jews through compelling short lines and full-spread illustrations on shadow-toned matte pages. Both the text and scenes convey the threats,  emotions, and stress of living in those days. Readers are several pages inTo this well-anchored account, experiencing that time and space, before reading the words “toy duck” or resistance network. Or the name of this historic figure. In fact, that is not her real name.

She was, in fact, Judith Geller. Her false name, counterfeit paperwork,  and instance that she was a caring French citizen, not Jewish, allowed her to take a job as a “social worker”, of sorts, even though a teen. She was serving families with young children during a crushing poverty and restrictions. After the Germans invaded her homeland, the French government quickly dropped their defenses and cooperated with the Nazi demands, including turning over French citizens, men, women, and children who happened to be Jewish. This is despite France’s political history of being the first and longest-lasting country in Europe to guarantee everyone of every background equality, brotherhood, and freedom. That included Jews.

Jacqueline/Judith biked countless kilometers throughout  the streets and roadways within and around Paris, using the toy duck (and its’ secret compartment) to smuggle false papers to hidden Jewish people of many ages. She even led some groups across the mountains to the south of France for safety in Spain. Incidents describe how she was stopped and searched, but returned to more of her dangerous work. That included pasting VIVE LA FRANCE posters across Swastika signs throughout the city. She saved members of her own family,  total strangers, and her own life.

Jacqueline/Judith’s story is revealed in even greater detail in an author’s note and the illustrator’s note, and I devoured those details. Even so, the lyrical, breathtaking narrative and wrenching images told her story with even more power. That bike she rode, that mission she followed, those shoulders and head pushing ever forward revealed her race against death as she pedaled every single day,  with little or no sleep, and surrounded by constant risk of discovery.

That toy duck with the hidden hollow for life-saving documents is now displayed at the Holocaust (Shoah) museum in Israel, where Judith and her story are also honored. This outstanding nonfiction picture book profile will help readers of other generations vicariously experience the impact of one person’s courage and determination on lives and the generations that followed.

A quote by Judith Geller closes the artist’s note and poses a current challenge:

“Today you will certainly find it foolish to risk your life.

But at that time, everything, every little rebellion was important.”

THE LUCKY ONES: An Unforgettable Read

 

 

THE LUCKY ONES

by Linda Williams Jackson

Candlewick, 9781536222555, 320pp.
Publication Date: April 19, 2022

Description from Indiebound.org:

“Award-winning author Linda Williams Jackson pulls from her own childhood in the Mississippi Delta to tell the story of Ellis Earl, who dreams of a real house, food enough for the whole family—and to be someone.”

 

This book has been on my radar for a while now, but I had not read it until last week. That’s a year out of my life that I will not get back to recommend it to kids and others.

Since the era portrayed is one I lived, I’m in denial about defining this as historical fiction, which it undoubtedly is. In fact, I recently noted an academic conversation about a book based in the 1990s which was also defined as historical fiction. I need to get over myself and identify that this book and the story it offers has standing (and deserves honor) among the other titles I’ve shared here.

Ellis Earl is an unforgettable character whose time and place in American history is rarely shared. Stories about the Civil Rights era and heroes tend to focus on historically familiar situations and folks, from Ruby Bridges to Rosa Parks to MLK, Jr. himself. Most that I’ve read, and I’ve read quite a few, focus on denials of school access, or interracial struggles and conflicts, or the politics of change. Or all of the above.

In this case, though, the story is one lesser know except to those who lived in such conditions, m especially in the deep South: isolation, destructive levels of poverty, overcrowding, all-Black schools with teachers who heroically pursued better lives for their students, and the ways in which laws were changed for the better but were actively denied within small towns and regions of the country that were common outside the spotlight. This was especially (and life-threateningly) true in the Mississippi Delta. Author Jackson drew on her own memories as well as her awareness that hers (and theirs) was hidden history to generate this remarkable and important novel.

Ellis Earl’s family members and their struggle to survive in the poverty areas of Mississippi after Civil Rights laws and anti-poverty programs were in place is unforgettable. It’s an indictment of willfully ignoring human rights as seen through the eyes and lives of Ellis Earl and his family and community. Locals applied changing laws and judicial orders and programs of support selectively, in racist ways that  will be eye-opening. The reality of systemic racism is demonstrated without finger-pointing or personifying individual “evil” groups or characters. Rather, the impact of social actions/inactions speak for themselves in their impact, connecting with readers who will care deeply for the lives revealed.

Despite the struggle and injustice of circumstances, though, the story itself glows with hope, optimism, and individual growth. The surprising and satisfying element, which feels entirely credible, is the way in which one teacher and one “kid” are able to move the dial on Ellis Earl’s own life and on the lives of his family. Make no mistake, though. Even characters with minor roles play significant parts in the unfolding of the story. Each is distinct and appears as an individual with wants and needs, hopes and dreams, and circumstances that could, SHOULD,  be improved.

Ellis Earl’s point of view reveals to readers from any background an opportunity to reflect on their own feelings about friends, family, self-image, and setting goals.

Starting today, and making up for lost time: highly recommend.

Author Interview: Anna Rose Johnson

THE STAR THAT ALWAYS STAYS

By Anna Rose Johnson

MG/YA Historical Novel, 2022

 

 

 

Holiday House,

ISBN: 978-0-8234-5040-4  $17.99

July 12, 2022

Ages 8-12

 

 

I was delighted to hear that the author of THE STAR THAT ALWAYS STAYS, Anna Rose Johnson, was willing to reply to some interview questions. I reviewed it earlier in 2022, but it merits another round of praise for its compelling characters, distinctive setting and perspectives, and much-needed authentic voices from Indigenous history in this country. If you missed my review, you can learn more about my thoughts about the book HERE, and the thoughts of other reviewers HERE with a Kirkus review HERE.

Then check out Anna Rose’s replies to my questions below.

SB: Welcome, and thank you for spending some time with readers here, Anna Rose. And congratulations on your debut novel, especially one that is so close to your heart and reaches readers’ hearts so effectively.

SB: A main interest of mine in requesting this interview was to clarify how much of Norvia’s family’s stories were floating through your youth and earlier life. In other words, when you discovered those papers and details as an adult (described in back matter)  did they “click” with various things you had heard in bits of family lore, or was it nearly all new and stunning to you?

ARJ: I already knew quite a bit about Norvia when I began to write the first draft of the novel, but my further research deepened my knowledge of her family and details about her life. It was indeed quite stunning to dig deeper and come to know her better as a person while looking through her photo albums and finding newspaper articles about her.

SB: I can hardly imagine how excited you must have been at various points in this journey. It must have felt like “meeting” family members from your past!

Which brings me to my next question: The named children and family members are so vividly developed and each has individual appeal (and roles) throughout the story. How did you land on their distinct personalities? Were there hints among those discoveries? From personal experiences with siblings and parents that you wove into these new characters? Or?

ARJ: This book went through many drafts, so I came to know the characters better as I refined the story. Dicta evolved a great deal from the first draft to the book that readers can now hold in their hands, as did Vernon. Basically, I knew I needed to have an array of distinctive characters around Norvia, especially as a contrast to her shy, introverted self. I wanted her siblings to be a bit more talkative, if only to keep moving the story forward! I definitely found hints for their personalities while learning more about Norvia’s siblings. (Judging from Dicta’s high school yearbook, she was a very vivacious person!)

SB: Again, these insights and discoveries must have run the gamut of emotional reactions. I’ll admit that Dicta’s energy was very appealing and did work very effectively to keep the pace going throughout!  You’re siblings are often foils, but she rose to her own identity with much appeal.

I was so pleased to read about your Ojibwe heritage, and admire how it served as such a rich resource for writing this book, including Anishinaabemowin: Ojibwe Language. Have you heard from children and families who are gratified to find your book incorporates language and culture so rarely represented? (Those may be native heritage folk or not? I (as a non-Native)  am very happy to have this book to share with kids and family.)

ARJ: I’ve definitely heard from readers who were delighted to find this representation in the book—people are very interested in reading more stories with Native characters, and I’m happy to be able to deliver that.

SB: I so enjoyed reading about native families in (then) contemporary times, living in urban settings, immersed in the dominant culture (with all its challenges and prejudices) rather than in an isolated or stereotypical community.

Your admiration of and familiarity with classic novels and compelling young women characters who were coming of age is clear. I loved the literary references throughout your story and recognized that as an authentic form of “pop culture” of its time. Did you ever, in your real life, draw on those literary inspirations in dealing with your own actual adolescent challenges? Anything you would share?

Related… Are there characters in books with contemporary stories who inspire you, too?

ARJ: I deeply dislike change, and I recall a time when I was a teenager that I drew inspiration from What Katy Did at School in order to embrace a change in my life. Contemporary stories have definitely inspired my own writing, particularly the marvelous Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall.

SB: Yay, PENDERWICKS series! I was not familiar with WHAT KATY DID AT SCHOOL. (Both are actively linked in your response for readers to learn more). I plan to check out KATY!

Now that this story of your heart is an actual book, one that MANY young readers will find, thanks to being a Junior Literary Guild Selection (congratulations!) what are your deepest hopes for it?

ARJ: My hope is that young readers come away feeling joyful, regardless of what’s happening in their life at the moment!

SB: Thank you, Anna Rose, and my hope is that many readers will find it enjoy it, wanting to tell friends and encourage others to read it, too. It entertains, which is always the essential requirement, but it also engages the heart and informs the mind and our ssnse of commonly-assumed history.