Children’s author Barbara Lowell returns to the blog to talk to us about her latest book, BEHIND THE BOOKCASE: Miep Gies, Anne Frank and the Hiding Place.
Barbara Lowell is the author of nonfiction and historical fiction picture books, nonfiction early readers, and nonfiction educational market books. Her books include GEORGE FARRIS WHAT A WHEEL, DARING AMELIA, ALEXANDER HAMILTON AMERICAN HERO, MY MASTODON, and more books for children.
One of her latest books, SPARKY & SPIKE: CHARLES SCHULZ AND THE WILDEST, SMARTEST DOG EVER, is a Junior Guild Library Selection.
Before the interview, let’s learn more about Barbara’s new book:
BEHIND THE BOOKCASE: Miep Gies, Anne Frank, and the Hiding Place by Barbara Lowell, illustrated by Valentina Toro
Release Date: September 01, 2020
Publisher: Kar-Ben Publishing
Anne Frank’s diary is a gift to the world because of Miep Gies. One of the protectors of the Frank family, Miep recovered the diary after the family was discovered by Nazis, and then returned it to Otto Frank after World War II. Displaced from her own home as a child during World War I, Miep had great empathy for Anne, and she found ways–like talking about Hollywood gossip and fashion trends–to engage her. The story of their relationship–and the impending danger to the family in hiding–unfolds in this unique perspective of Anne Frank’s widely known story.
Valerie Lawson: I’m so happy you’ve returned to the blog for another interview! The last time you were here, your very first picture book was coming out. Now you have just celebrated the publication of your THIRTEENTH book!
CONGRATULATIONS! How have you changed as a writer from that first book, GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL, to now? What have you learned about the publishing industry that surprised you?
Barbara Lowell: Thank you, Valerie! And thank you for inviting me on your blog!
What surprised me about writing and publishing is that writing a new book never gets easier. You think it would, but it doesn’t. I really didn’t have any expectations about working with an editor, but what I have found is that they are a joy to work with. I have learned so much from every editor’s revision skills and knowledge of the business.
I’m a more confident writer now then I was at the beginning, but I always remember that I have lots more to learn. It’s a joy to learn from many, many fantastic writers that have chosen to write for kids.
VL: Your newest picture book, which came out on September 1st, BEHIND THE BOOKCASE: Miep Gies, Anne Frank and the Hiding Place, has been described in a review by Booklist as: “A historically accurate but gentle introduction to the Holocaust for elementary-age readers.”
What else can you tell us about it?
BL: It’s the story of the young woman, Miep Gies, who as an Austrian child after World War I was sent by her parents to live in the Netherlands. She was malnourished as a result of the war and might have died. Families in the Netherlands offered to care for Austria’s children.
Miep loved the Dutch way of life and chose to stay with her Dutch family. In 1933, she became Otto Frank’s employee after he moved from Germany to Amsterdam to escape Nazi persecution. He is of course, Anne Frank’s father. Miep along with four other people, helped to hide the Frank family and their friends during the Holocaust in the annex above their offices. She had a close relationship with Anne Frank and after Anne’s arrest, Miep found and saved Anne’s diary. I think it’s important that children know Miep’s story and that she along with other brave people were willing to hide and care for an estimated 25,000 Jews in Amsterdam.
VL: You write nonfiction and historical fiction picture books, nonfiction early readers, and nonfiction educational market books for reluctant readers. What are the unique challenges for each genre that you have to make sure you address as you create each story?
BL: At present, I’m concentrating on nonfiction and historical fiction picture books. Everything I have written has required research. Fortunately, I love researching. I think the challenges are the same for each genre and for every writer.
Writing is hard. Finding the right focus and structure is the first step and often the most difficult. Then comes writing the first draft. I am so happy when I complete one because the next step, revising, is my favorite. I love the revision process especially after I receive feedback.
VL: I love the way you find the most amazing quotes and unique bits of historical detail for your stories. Talk about your intensive research process and how you find all of these great gems – if you don’t mind sharing your secrets!
BL: My ideas primarily come from reading adult nonfiction but some have come from visiting sites. When I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I knew I needed to learn more about Miep Gies. After reading her autobiography, I decided to write BEHIND THE BOOKCASE.
The idea for GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL came from Erik Larson’s book Devil in the White City. I learned that 2,160 people could ride George Ferris’s Ferris Wheel, a structural engineering marvel, at the same time. I look for ideas that interest me and ones I think kids will find interesting too.
When researching an idea, I try to find as many primary and secondary sources as possible. When researching DARING AMELIA, I found a book by Amelia Earhart’s sister which gave me the line “It’s just like flying,” in reference to Amelia jumping up after crashing her homemade roller coaster. I look for as many sources as possible and dig until I’m sure my research is right.
With SPARKY & SPIKE, I read everything that Charles Schulz wrote about his life, and every interview with him that I could find although the book is about his childhood and his dog Spike, the inspiration for Snoopy. My sister gave me an idea recently. I bought an autobiography by the subject and found multiple other ideas in the first chapter. I guess it’s about paying attention. I love to learn so lots of things interest me.
VL: For you, what makes a great subject for a nonfiction or historical fiction picture book. What or who inspires you?
BL: It’s usually someone who has persevered despite odds and hasn’t given up their dream. What I love most is writing about children who have done something unusual, something that kids will find intriguing.
I’m inspired by good people doing brave things without regard for their own well-being. That’s why it was important for me to write about Miep Gies in BEHIND THE BOOKCASE. She is a hero to me.
VL: I absolutely adored your book SPARKY & SPIKE: Charles Schultz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever, about Charles Schultz and his own dog that inspired his character of Snoopy. Not only was the story fantastic, but also the comic book style illustrations were amazing. Talk about your experience creating and publishing the book.
BL: First, I think the absolute best illustrator for the book did the art. As if by magic, he had a letter written by Charles Schulz with a drawing of Snoopy. Dan Andreasen had written to Schulz when he was a child asking for advice about drawing. The letter is in the book.
The first manuscript I wrote was about Charles Schulz’s childhood through the first appearance of Peanuts on October 1, 1950. A freelance editor suggested that I write only about Charles as a child and his dog Spike. I took her advice and wrote a second manuscript. SPARKY & SPIKE is actually a combination of both manuscripts. Many of the earlier spreads were taken from my original manuscript.
VL: What drew you to tell the story of Anne Frank from a different perspective?
BL: It’s important for writers to find a new way of telling a familiar story. And I wanted to tell Miep’s story too, not just Anne’s. Miep was a remarkably kind woman who faced adversity and risked her life in attempt to save the lives of others. Anne Frank relied on Miep when she hid in the annex. She shared her struggles with Miep when she couldn’t with her family. Miep brought the truth of what was happening in the outside world to the hiders but she also brought joy to them. That’s why I told the story of the red high heels Miep gave to Anne.
VL: I know you love to travel, what are the most unusual places you’ve ever visited? And have any of your travel adventures ever inspired a story idea?
BL: The most unusual places were: Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia, a more remote part of the islands. Pitcairn Island of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, although we didn’t leave the ship, the islanders sailed to us. And circling Easter Island multiple times because the ship wasn’t able to enter the port safely.
I have one idea from traveling. I visited an amazing museum in Sweden and decided to write a story about what I saw there. But I haven’t figured out the best way to tell the story.
VL: What’s next for you? Can you share with us any projects you are currently working on or anything that might be coming out soon?
BL: I have a new nonfiction picture book that will be released in Fall 2021. I wish I could tell you the title and more about it, but it hasn’t been announced. But – it’s a story about the son of a very famous American. I working on more picture books both nonfiction and historical fiction and have one manuscript ready for submission.
We will keep an eye out for your upcoming book! Thank you so much for joining us, today, Barbara. It’s been a pleasure talking with you!
Learn more about Barbara by visiting her website HERE.