How appropriate that while we TeachingAuthors share epistles to our Teen Selves these two weeks, invited Guest Author Angela Cerrito’s WWW focuses on letter writing!
Angela is my treasured SCBWI kin. We first met in 2004 at the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York; she’d (deservedly) won the Kimberly Colen Memorial Grant which funded research in Warsaw, Poland that led to her recently published middle grade novel THE SAFEST LIE (Holiday House). That research included interviews with the novel’s inspiration, Irena Sendler, the Catholic social worker and spy who rescued more than twenty-five hundred children from the Warsaw ghetto, as well as readings of testimonies from many of those children held in the archives of the Jewish Historical Institute.
This powerful historical novel tells the story of nine-year-old Anna Bauman who in 1940 is smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto and struggles to both hide and hold onto her Jewish identity. Her journey brings to the page the sacrifices endured, the dangers faced and the heroism shown by the children rescued, their parents and their saviors. It illuminates yet another tragedy of the Holocaust: rescued children who lost not only their loved ones, but their very identities and Jewish heritage.
Anna is a truly unforgettable character. Her first person narrative falters not once. This novel’s craft is noteworthy. Just enough reader-appropriate concrete details and dialogue allow the young reader to live inside this long-ago ugly world, yet like Anna, miraculously take heart and hope. Anna's attempts to retain her identity will make for meaningful connections and reflective discussions.
The Kirkus reviewer wrote that “Cerrito effectively evokes the fears, struggles, and sheer terror these children faced through her protagonist's first-person account, which allows readers into her private thoughts. Anna's three years in hiding encompass much of what these saved children experienced... and readers are left to ponder what the future might hold for this brave girl. Balancing honesty and age-appropriateness, Cerrito crafts an authentic, moving portrait.”
The School Library Journal reviewer commented that “Anna's present-tense narrative voice is vivid, and readers will connect with her from the start. From the moment she recommends her friends for scarce vaccinations to her inquiries about a baby she helped rescue years ago, she demonstrates her loyalty. Fans of Lois Lowry's NUMBER THE STARS or Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE are likely to enjoy reading this book next. VERDICT: a suspenseful and informative choice for historical fiction fans.”
You can read an excerpt here.
Thank you, Angela, for sharing your writer’s expertise today. I am beyond delighted to introduce you to our readers.
* * * * * * * * *
Dear Protagonist/Dear Antagonist
In THE SAFEST LIE, the main character reflects on three letters sent by her grandmother from the Łodz ghetto.
Letters are a powerful way to record history and convey ideas. A particular advantage is that the letter writer can record his or her thoughts without interruption.
Below is a two-part writing exercise that can be used with students from the moment they have identified a protagonist and antagonist or at any time during the writing and revising process.
Have your protagonist write a letter to the antagonist.
IMPORTANT! This is a letter that will never be delivered. Allow the protagonist to get all of his or her feelings into the letter- every grievance, every gripe, and be sure to include as much detail as possible. [Don’t reveal Step 2 until students have completed Step 1]
Discussion points after Step 1:
How did it feel to write that letter?
Did you learn anything new about your protagonist? About the antagonist?
How would your protagonist feel if the letter were actually delivered?
How would the antagonist react?
We are about to find out….
Very unexpectedly, the letter was delivered to the antagonist who read it, reacted and wrote back.
Now, write the letter your antagonist would write to the protagonist after reading the letter in Step 1.
How did if feel writing from the antagonist’s point of view?
Did you learn anything new about the antagonist? About the protagonist?
What did you learn about their conflict?
Will this change anything in your plot as you revise the story?
Use the premise above to:
(1) write emails between the protagonist / antagonist
(2) create audio recordings / video recordings of messages acting as the protagonist / antagonist.
Note: Is the story set in the future? If so, use the message system the characters would use (i.e. brain chip messages, laser portals, inter-space pod transmissions, optic output devices) or whatever fits your story.
Additionally, rather than use your own story, use these protagonist/antagonist writing exercises with a recent book you’ve read.