Author Dana Walrath sat down with Random House Children’s Books to discuss her new novel Like Water on Stone! For more information on Dana and Like Water on Stone, please click here!
Random House Children’s Books: Dana, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us! Like Water on Stone had already received two starred reviews and has been nominated to the 2015 ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list! Congratulations! Will you tell us about your book?
Dana Walrath: Thank you! It’s been so lovely to have reviewers and readers connect with Like Water on Stone.
A blend of historical fiction and magical realism, Like Water on Stone tells the story of three siblings—twins Shahen and Sosi and their younger sister Mariam—who survive the Armenian genocide of 1915 with the help of a guardian eagle, Ardziv. In dread of impending violence, Shahen longs to leave his home to join his uncle in New York. Sosi wants nothing more than to stay, especially now that she has fallen in love. But when the Ottoman pashas intensify their plans to eliminate all Armenians, neither of them has a choice: they must flee. The siblings face danger and starvation as they hide by day and run at night, making their way across mountain ridges and rivers red with blood. Drawing strength and courage from their imaginations, they journey to safety, self-knowledge, and forgiveness.
RHCB: Like Water on Stone reveals an untold history. What compelled you to write a story about the Armenian genocide?
DW: My family’s history introduced me to the Armenian genocide. Later I learned that three-quarters of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire—1.5 million people—died during this first genocide of the 20th century. Those who survived the desert marches and massacres lost everything: their homes, their land, their possessions; they scattered to various parts of the world. However, despite the fact that helping Armenian refugees and survivors was one of the first direct-to-public human rights campaigns in the United States, most Americans today know nothing about the genocide. The official Turkish policy of denial and the United States’ relationship with Turkey have kept the story of the Armenian genocide in the shadows. Like Water on Stone, and the story of any genocide, must be told—to remember those who died, to honor those who helped others survive, and to stop such atrocities from continuing to occur.
RHCB: The story must have been difficult for you to write—not to mention difficult for readers to read and experience. Some of the literary devices you use—writing in verse, the character of Ardziv, etc.—seem like they might be a coping mechanism. Would you agree with that?
DW: The free verse form of this story certainly came about as a way to cope. As I sat down to write, I found that everyday language could not express the scale and horror of genocide. I could only put it onto paper in fragments. These fragments, in turn, slowly built into a story.
Ardziv and his magic, too, made the story easier to bear. He made it safe for me to dig deeper, for Shahen, Sosi, and Mariam as they traveled, and, most importantly, for readers. His magic serves another purpose, too: he is the creative spirit that lives inside all of us and lets us continue to walk no matter what we have to face.
RHCB: You have a personal connection to this story. Would you mind sharing it with us?
DW: My maternal grandparents are both survivors of this genocide, my grandfather from the region around Lake Van, and my grandmother from Palu, where this story is set. When I was little I asked my mother about her mother’s childhood, and she said simply that, after her parents were killed, she and her younger brother and sister hid during the day and ran at night from their home in Palu to the orphanage in Aleppo. I never knew this grandmother, and my mother gave me no other details. By the time I was old enough to ask the serious questions, that generation was gone. I wrote this story to make sense of how these young ones, and all survivors, had the courage and strength and smarts and luck to make such a journey. I wrote to understand parents working desperately to save the lives of their children. I wrote to make sense of the witnesses—those who chose to help, and those who turned away, and those who became a part of the terrible sickness that is genocide.
RHCB: Like Water on Stone opens with an Armenian proverb: “Where the needle passes, the thread passes also.” How does this proverb relate to the book?
DW: For me this proverb means that pain, and the healing from it, are linked. Together they contain a wish. The hole and hurt the needle makes pave the way for the thread that will mend a wound. Instead of seeing just the senseless horror, a viewpoint from which it is impossible ever to recover, we can heal and become something else, something stronger and beautiful, stitched together. So many threads—our stories, strings of genetic material, lines of songs, memories—connect all of us throughout time and space. Finding those threads and sewing them together, even when it hurts, will make for a better world for us today and for those who will inhabit it after us.
RHCB: One more question! You have dedicated Like Water on Stone “to the survivors, to those who fell, and to those who cross divides to prevent genocide.” What does this dedication mean to you?
DW: This is not just a story about the Armenian genocide. It related to people in all times and places, including today’s Syria, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I intend it to honor the survivors, and those who died. But it’s vital to focus on the ethnic and religious divisions that lie at the heart of genocide. Throughout time and space there have been people who can see past their culture’s boundaries, definitions, and divides to find our common humanity instead of placing us into distinct boxes. Those who do this through their scholarship, their art, their relief work, and their daily lives champion and protect basic human rights of us all. They are “those who cross divides to prevent genocide,” and they are my heroes.
To learn more about Dana Walrath and Like Water on Stone, and to download a free educator guide, click here.
Like Water on Stone
By Dana Walrath
“Evocative and hopeful,” says Newbery Honor winner
Rita Williams-Garcia of this intense survival story set
during the Armenian genocide of 1915
January 12, 2015
Author of the Magic Tree House series
After twenty-three years of writing Magic Tree House books, I’m very pleased to share the first Magic Tree House Super Edition with you: Danger in the Darkest Hour.
I wrote my first Magic Tree House stories (books 1 through 28) for readers who are just starting to read chapter books. I then created the Merlin Missions (books 29 through 52) to encourage readers to move to the next level—these Jack and Annie adventures all feature longer stories, expanded vocabulary, and more complex plots.
Now, with my first Magic Tree House Super Edition, I invite young readers to take the next step, traveling with Jack and Annie on a reading adventure in which the vocabulary level is only slightly higher, but the story is twice as long and the subject matter more advanced.
I believe the Super Edition offers the perfect format to introduce young readers to World War II. It’s a subject that I’ve long wanted to write about—and one that readers (especially boys in third through fifth grade) have been requesting for many years. This new title also includes thirty pages of nonfiction back matter to give historical context to Jack and Annie’s adventure.
Despite the heightened suspense and danger inherent in any World War II story, I hope children will be reassured by the optimism and resourcefulness that Jack and Annie maintain throughout their journey. Once again, my two characters have taught me important lessons about the world—and about the virtues of courage, justice, and kindness. I hope they’ll do the same for the children who read this book.
—Mary Pope Osborne
For series information and classroom games, visit Teachers.MagicTreeHouse.com
For lesson plans with Common Core Standards correlations, visit MTHClassroomAdventures.org
December 03, 2014
For the past ten years, I’ve worked in the publishing field as an editor and art director, editing fantasy and science fiction books for the adult market. I’m very proud of that work. I’ve been honored with several awards and nominations, and it’s been a rare privilege to collaborate with such wonderful and talented authors and artists over the years. I count many of them as dear friends, and one or two are actually writers that I read as a child! Can you imagine the thrill of commissioning a story or a novel from a childhood hero? Wow.
But most of the books I’ve worked on aren’t really appropriate for children. That’s okay. They’re adult books meant for adult readers. They’re fantastic books, to be sure, but I can’t share them with my children for a few years yet. So for a while now, I’ve wanted to write something that my kids could enjoy right away, starring characters that both my son and my daughter could relate to and care about.
I love “buddy fiction,” those tales of unlikely duos adventuring together across imagined lands, so writing about a boy-and-girl team was a natural choice. I also love fantasy fiction. I grew up on The Hobbit (which I read over and over again), the Lord of the Rings (which led me to painting tons of miniature orc figures), the Chronicles of Narnia (which my father read to me several times), and films like The Dark Crystal, Dragonslayer, and Conan the Barbarian. For a long time, I’ve wanted to craft my own fantasy world, one rich and full enough that heroes—and readers—could explore it in adventure after adventure.
Enter Frostborn and the Thrones and Bones series. The story of Frostborn is set in the country of Norrøngard, a Norse-inspired land on the northwesternmost edge of an enormous continent. It’s a land of trolls and frost giants, winter wolves and undead warriors known as draug. And dragons. Oh yes, dragons. It’s a place of adventure, thrills, and chills, but also humor.
And friendship. It was into this snowy, northern environment that I placed my boy and girl. I should stress that they are co-leads. It’s very important to me that neither character is the sidekick of the other. Karn Korlundsson and Thianna the half-giant are very different in personality and in strength, but they are equal in importance to the story of Thrones and Bones. Thianna is big and brash and brave and decidedly unsubtle. Karn is introspective, clever, and an obsessive gamer (who finds that strategy games have more real-world applications than he anticipated). Like so many of us, neither of them starts out feeling like they fit in exactly with their environment, though they both have strengths they haven’t recognized. Together, they learn about themselves and each other, as they are forced to team up to survive both the harsh wilderness and several sets of enemies.
I mentioned that Thianna is a half-giant. Her mother was a human from a faraway land, but her father was a frost giant from Norrøngard. My children are biracial, and it is important to me that they see themselves reflected in their fiction. So while Karn is a blond, blue-eyed boy, very typical for his region, Thianna is a child of two cultures and favors the skin tone and hair color of her mother’s distant country (think Mediterranean). But whatever a child’s ethnicity or heritage, I hope they can relate to Karn’s and Thianna’s struggles, their hopes and dreams, and their journey. I’m writing for my children, but I’m writing for yours as well, and for the child in all of us. It’s a wonderful hat to wear, this brand-new writer’s cap of mine, and I hope I get to keep it on for many years to come.
Lou Anders’s research on Norse mythology while writing Frostborn turned into a love affair with Viking culture and a first visit to Norway. He hopes the series will appeal to boys and girls equally. Anders is the recipient of a Hugo Award for editing and a Chesley Award for art direction. He has published over 500 articles and stories on science fiction and fantasy television and literature. Frostborn, which Publishers Weekly described as “thoroughly enjoyable” (starred review), is his first middle-grade novel. A prolific speaker, Anders regularly attends writing conventions around the country. He and his family reside in Birmingham, Alabama. You can visit Anders online at louanders.com and ThronesandBones.com.
Frostborn by Lou Anders
HC: 9780385387781 GLB: 9780385387798 EPUB: 9780385387804
Grades 3–7; Debut novelist Lou Anders has created a rich world of over twenty-five countries inhabited by Karn, Thianna, and an array of fantastical creatures, as well as the Thrones and Bones board game.
December 03, 2014
Thomas Jefferson wasn’t perfect—far from it. As the author of the Declaration of Independence, he articulated an ideal of individual rights that has since reshaped the way nations the world over have viewed the very nature of humanity. Yet as a slave owner, Jefferson failed to live up to his own noble language. A man capable of great good, he was also capable of great evil. Yet part of being a historically minded person—someone who understands the past and its connection to today—is to see people not as wholly good or wholly bad but as creatures of the world in which they lived. And I believe we can learn much from Thomas Jefferson’s sins.
If even the greatest of those who came before us could be so wrong about such important issues, then maybe we are liable to be blind, too, to the shortcomings and issues of our own age. We should be particularly mindful of the injustices and unfinished work we face so that there will be less to condemn or regret when historians look back at the era in which we lived. Knowing that leaders in the past failed should inspire us to succeed and act justly in the present so that we can create a better future.
That’s why I write history: to recover the reality that those who we tend to venerate as godlike were anything but. They were people like us, enduring good days and bad, fighting to overcome selfishness and ambition, yearning to be good and even great in a world that can be stubbornly inhospitable to our finest impulses.
Often viewed largely as a man of ideas, Jefferson was in fact a man of action, a colossus who was not only present at the creation of the country but who fought, year after year and battle by battle, to keep what he once called “the world’s best hope” strong and secure.
In him we have a vivid example of an American whose engagement with issues of liberty, security, race, power, finance, religion, and partisanship sheds light on the possibilities and the limitations of leadership. He is often seen as the thinking man’s Founding Father, an embodiment of the Enlightenment, a philosopher more at home with the abstract than with the carnal—and feral—nature of politics. But as a legislator, governor, diplomat, secretary of state, vice president, and president, Jefferson spent much of his life seeking centrality and a sense of control over himself and over the lives and destinies of others.
He was subtly imposing, neither as grand a presence as George Washington nor as disarming a wit as Benjamin Franklin. He was, rather, formidable without seeming overbearing, sparkling without being showy, charming without appearing cloying. He loved his books, his farms, good wine, architecture, Homer, horseback riding, history, philosophy, France, the Commonwealth of Virginia, spending money, and his two devoted daughters. Sensitive to criticism, intoxicated by approval, obsessed with his reputation, Jefferson was irresistibly drawn to the great world.
Thomas Jefferson: President and Philosopher is a book about a man of many parts, but it is chiefly about how Jefferson, as our third president, lived and worked in the politics of his time to advance the causes of human liberty and self-government.
History can sometimes seem dry and distant. It shouldn’t, though, because history, told and taught properly, is the very human story of flawed people who, at their best, struggled amid the all-too-familiar difficulties of life to leave the world at least a slightly better place than they found it. I wanted this young readers’ adaptation to show the next generation of Americans this truth: that the heroes who seem unreachable and encased in marble were once living, breathing human beings. And if they, with all their faults and fears, could do great things, then all of us, with our faults and fears, can do great things, too.
Thomas Jefferson: President and Philosopher by Jon Meacham
HC: 9780385387491 GLB: 9780385387507 EPUB: 9780385387514
Grades 5 & Up; Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States. He was one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence. But he was also a lawyer and an ambassador, an inventor and a scientist. He had a wide range of interests and hobbies, but his consuming interest was the survival and success of the United States. This adaptation, ideal for those interested in American presidents, biographies, and the founding of the American republic, is an excellent example of informational writing and reflects Meacham’s extensive research using primary source material.