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