Today we welcome Barbara Krasner back to The LaunchPad for the launch of her SECOND picture book biography this year, Liesl’s Ocean Rescue! Barbara is a member of the winter '06 class (affectionately known these days as "The Class With No Name")
Liesl’s Ocean Rescue, by noted children’s author Barbara Krasner, recounts the story of Liesl Joseph, a 10-year-old girl aboard the ill-fated MS St. Louis. On May 13, 1939, together with her parents and nearly 1,000 other Jewish refugees, she left Hamburg on the German luxury liner, attempting to seek temporary asylum in Cuba.
Great to see you back at The LaunchPad Barbara, and congratulations on your second new picture book this year. What was the spark that ignited this book?
I grew up hearing about the Jewish refugees on a ship that the United States would not accept. When the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a book about its survivors, Refuge Denied, my interest was once again piqued. I contacted one of the authors of the book and he shared with me a list of survivors in my local area. Within a few months, I interviewed seven survivors at their homes in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania area and one by phone in Florida. One of these was Liesl Joseph Loeb, whose father had been head of the ship’s passenger committee.
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
To keep the book at picture book length, I started the story when Liesl and her parents board the ship in Hamburg. But my publisher wanted to start at the defining moment: Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when Liesl’s father was arrested like thousands of other men across Germany. My publisher was right, of course.
Tell us about your writing community.
I’ve been writing historical fiction and non-fiction with members of the Carolyn P. Yoder Retreats since 2005 or so. We’ve gotten to know each other’s work so well, strengths and weaknesses alike. Because we all pretty much write the same genre, I don’t have to hear suggestions that make no sense for nonfiction that I get in local writers groups. We focus on the narrative arc, emotion, and clarity.
What authors do you love for their sentences? Plot? Character?
I wish I could write like Neal Bascomb in The Nazi Hunters (Scholastic/Arthur Levine, 2013) and Steve Sheinkin in Bomb (Roaring Brook Press, 2012). They make nonfiction real page-turners. And they have their ways to weave in multiple viewpoints in a way that doesn’t confuse young readers.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
My advisors were Jane Resh Thomas, Liza Ketchum, Ellen Levine, and Marion Dane Bauer. For some reason, I only worked on nonfiction, in picture book format, with Liza, while I waited for her to read the middle grade novel I’d written with Jane. Still, the fictional techniques I learned apply to writing nonfiction. There still has to be characterization, setting, imagery, plot.
What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?
I knew you should take the opportunity to experiment with different kinds of writing, but I didn’t realize just how true that was. I wish I’d written more nonfiction for all grade levels.
It's great to have you back, Barbara-- and best of luck with your next release, either fiction or nonfiction! We'll be on the look out!