Fourth Grade Journey

A Fourth Grade Teacher's Journey Through the World of Books

Monday, September 4, 2017

An Inside Look #33 - Season #TWO (AUTHOR Interview)

An Inside Look With Alan Gratz
(Author of Rufugee)

*This was a new feature I added to the blog during the summer of 2016.  It was a shot in the dark that it would work, but much to my surprise; it took off and over the last year I conducted 22 interviews with a variety of authors.  

*It has been such an honor to connect with authors and "chat" about their novel, characters, and thoughts about the story.

*I didn't have time for interviews during the school year, but I'm excited to be back for "season #TWO".  

*I'm hoping to run this feature at least once a week.  There is nothing more satisfying than sharing and promoting a book/author/character that I have fallen in love with.  

*Thank you to Alan Gratz for being the ELEVENTH author of the second season.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first THIRTY-TWO interviews…

*I remember when I first started to hear about this novel.  It came via Twitter and many of my reading friends were RAVING about this story.

*I was lucky enough to pick up an ARC at ALA in Chicago.  When I sat down and began reading, I could not put it down.  I'm not normally a historical fiction lover, but this one grabbed me and didn't let go until I finished the last page.

*Alan Gratz was gracious enough to say yes to an interview and share his thoughts about these three AMAZING characters.  The story is incredible and the three young characters show the true sense of being strong, determined, and courageous.  

*Here is a link to my review of Rufugee...

*Thank you Alan Gratz for writing this novel for middle-grade readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here on the blog...

by Alan Gratz (Released July 25, 2017)

How did you come to know Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud?  

All three characters are fictional, but each is based on real things that happened to real kids making each of those three journeys. Once I had done my research into each time and odyssey, I spent time with each kid, thinking about who they were before, during, and after my story. Getting to know them off the page was essential to bringing them to life ON the page. 

What do you think are their most admirable qualities?

Hope. Hope links all three. Without hope, none of them would have the strength to endure the hardships they go through on their journeys, and the persistence to take that next step. 

Is there anything you wish Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud would have changed or done differently in their stories?

Not really--if there was anything I wish they'd done differently, I would have made them do it! I don't wait for characters to talk and act on their own, I tell them what to do! And because they are fictional, I was able to craft their stories to be just what I wanted.  

What do you think these three children can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what they went through?  

I hope that anyone going through a similar situation realizes that they're not alone. That doesn't help a lot, I know, but sometimes it's a comfort to know that your situation is a shared one.

How did you research these characters and the circumstances they found themselves in?

The research for each was different. The story of the MS St. Louis is well-documented, so I was able to check out books from the library for that story. For the Cuban story, I used books, newspapers, and documentary interviews with actual boat refugees. For the Syrian story, I had to use contemporary reporting from sources like Time, the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Guardian, the Independent, and others. 

Do you and the three children share any similarities?  

There's a little bit of me in every character I write. I'm probably most like Mahmoud's father at present, using humor to deflate difficult or frightening situations. As to the main characters, I'm like Josef in that I wanted to be a grown up when I was a kid--even down to reading the newspaper and carrying a briefcase to school! 

What was the hardest scene to write about each of the characters?

For Josef, the scene where he sits with his father as his father recounts what he saw in the concentration camps. For Isabel, the chapter where she deals with what happened to Ivan. For Mahmoud, the scenes where he and his family are lost in the Mediterranean. 

Who do you think were their biggest supporters and why?

In story, their biggest supporters are their families. I tried to show that even in the midst of difficult times, strong families rally around each other and prop each other up. 

In your opinion, how are children able to endure and survive such difficult hardships that life gives them?    

I think that young people are pretty resilient humans. They're able to shake things off a little better because they live for today, not tomorrow or yesterday. So they take each day as it comes. But there's a certain point, of course, where day after day after day of harsh circumstances breaks anyone, even a child--and that's what I tried to show with Waleed. 

What do you think these characters are doing as the present time?

Josef is long since dead, alas. Isabel runs a music venue in Miami. Mahmoud is a student at a German university!

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