2016 Debut Authors Bash: Author Interview with Cheryl Blackford

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Hi, everyone! Welcome back!

Today, I am very excited to introduce you to a new MG author, Cheryl Blackford.  I feel that there are a ton of MG authors this year. Is it just me? I mean, we always have SOME MG authors for the Bash, but I feel like we have a ton more this year! Maybe I’m just blocking out past years. Anyways, I’m super excited for all of the new MG books because these are the types of books that I’ll be including in my curriculum and classroom since I’ll be teaching in an elementary school setting next year. I mean, I’ll definitely have SOME YA books in my classroom, especially for the higher level readers, but (and this depends on the grade level that I’ll be teaching) I’ll most likely have mostly MG books in my classroom. So, I’m very excited for all of these new MG books! That being said, take a look at the interview below! As always, be sure to leave a comment in the comments section below!


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Cheryl Blackford was born in Yorkshire, England but now lives in a house in the woods in Minnesota where she is entertained by a wide assortment of wildlife, including coyotes. LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY is Cheryl’s first middle-grade novel. She has written three non-fiction books for young readers and her picture book HUNGRY COYOTE (inspired by a coyote she saw crossing a frozen lake near her home) won a 2015 Moonbeam Award.


 

 

Why did you write this story?

Setting is often the starting point for my stories and I wanted to write something set in Yorkshire where I grew up. Swainedale is loosely based on Rosedale, a beautiful valley in the North York Moors where my parents owned a cottage for many years. I had the idea that Lizzie would be an evacuee and the story grew from that. And not only did I have a story but I discovered a piece of family history I hadn’t known before I wrote this book — both my father and uncle were World War II evacuees. Neither of them had ever thought it important enough to speak about! Can you believe that?

 

Why is Historical Fiction important?

Current events often mirror past events and story is a safe way for young readers to explore difficult topics. War has disrupted Lizzie’s life: for her own safety the British Government has mandated that she leave her home and parents and live with strangers. Over 3 million people (most of them children) were evacuated in Britain during World War II to escape German bombs. Sadly war still causes mass migrations and this type of dislocation is familiar to many modern children. Placing a fictional child in this situation gives readers insight into the feelings of loss and uncertainty suffered by those who have had to flee their homes and their countries. And for those readers who are in this situation, perhaps they can watch Lizzie overcome her fears and sadness and feel some hope for themselves.

 

Prejudice and bigotry in its extreme form can lead to genocide. Elijah is a Gypsy: he and his people are objects of scorn and suspicion in Swainedale and are subjected to discrimination and harassment because their customs and nomadic life are not the norm in England. Prejudice against the Gypsy/Roma/Traveler community persists to this day. Lizzie befriending Elijah can be a model for children to acknowledge and celebrate difference rather than scorning it. In Europe the Nazi regime took its prejudice to extremes by murdering tens of thousands of Roma in a genocidal effort to exterminate them as a people. Narrative fiction can help us find a way to discuss such an ugly subject as genocide.

 

Why are “windows” and “mirrors” important in middle-grade and YA fiction?

Books offer readers “windows” where they can peek into lives very different from their own — helping them to understand unfamiliar situations and develop empathy. If you don’t have empathy with someone, it’s easy to dismiss or even harass that person. We must show our children that “different” doesn’t mean “inferior” or “dangerous.” Story can do that. A “window” for one reader will be a “mirror” for another who sees her own life reflected in the story. And that story can offer hope as the reader sees a character coping with, and often overcoming, problems similar to her own.

 

Does Lizzie encounter problems that modern middle-grade kids would understand?

Friendship. Sibling rivalry. Injustice. Lizzie grapples with all of those as she adjusts to her new life in the dale. And powerlessness in the face of intractable adults — kids know that one well!

 

How Can I incorporate LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY into my curriculum?

I’m glad you asked. I’m in the middle of creating a teachers’ guide that I’ll post on my web site (www.cherylblackford.com). It will have suggested topics for research and discussion, and language arts activities that will be correlated to Common Core standards. But here’s a fun activity: Some food, such as sugar and meat, was rationed in Britain during World War II which meant that cooks had to be very creative when planning meals. (Carrot “fudge” anyone?). Research a typical British diet of the time and compare it with foods kids like to eat now. Do they see any wartime meals they think they’d enjoy? What would they miss the most?

 

More great MG and YA fiction and non-fiction about World War II.

  • THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Dial Books, 2015.
  • A FROST IN THE NIGHT by Edith Baer, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
  • NUMBER THE STARS by Lois Lowry, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, reissued 2011.
  • THE KLIPFISH CODE by Mary Casanova, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2007.
  • SHADOW ON THE MOUNTAIN by Margi Preus, Harry N. Abrams, 2014.
  • BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD-AND STEAL—THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON, by Steve Sheinken, Flash Point, 2012. (Non-fiction)
  • SYMPHONY FOR THE CITY OF THE DEAD: DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH AND THE SIEGE OF LENINGRAD by M.T. Anderson, Candlewick, 2015. (Non-fiction)
  • ANNE FRANK: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL by Anne Frank and B.M. Mooyaart. (Non-fiction)
  • SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys, Philomel Books, 2016. (Also, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY.)
  • GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT, by Monica Hesse, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016.
  • BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN by John Boyne, Henry Holt and Co., 2016. (Also, THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS.)

The last three books and their authors are described in this New York Times article:


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In LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY, ten-year-old Lizzie Dewhurst grapples with an important question: Is it ever right to keep something that doesn’t belong to you? The question haunts Lizzie as she adjusts to life as a World War II evacuee and sees the intolerance and prejudice exhibited by her hosts. Lizzie and her younger brother Peter have been sent from their city home to Swainedale, a remote Yorkshire valley, to live with strangers. On her first day in the dale Lizzie finds an abandoned baby in a field. When she befriends Elijah, a local Gypsy boy, and discovers the truth about the baby she is faced with a terrible choice. How will she answer the question?

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