Winner of Kim Ablon Whitney’s Book

November 30, 2009

The winner of our November contest is Donna Heroux!  She sent us an email with the fact that Herbert escaped from a raid by proving that he was under 16 and therefore considered a child too young to be arrested.

Donna, please send your snail mail address to damselsinregress [at] gmail [dot] com so we can send you your book.  Congratulations!


A Thanksgiving Offering

November 25, 2009

While we’re gathering with family and friends this week, I thought it would be fun to take a look at a short story that reveres a more simple time. An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott tells the story of a farm family in the 1820s. The Bassett family is preparing for Thanksgiving when word comes that grandma is dying. Mr. and Mrs. Bassett pack up the sleigh and the baby to make the twenty-mile trip, leaving the rest of the children behind.

The oldest boy is sixteen, so it’s not as bad of a situation as it sounds. He and the oldest girl are left in charge of their five siblings. The children do chores, play together, eat together, tell stories, and in general, get along far better than most kids today would. The fun comes when the two oldest girls decide to cook the Thanksgiving meal for their mother. They don’t know quite what they’re doing, but they make a serious effort, with the usual comic results.

An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving is a sweet story that would make a good read-aloud, especially since it’s full of colloquialisms and out-of-use terms. It was first published in St. Nicholas magazine in 1881. Since it’s set in the 1820s and its author was born in 1832, that makes it–you guessed it–historical fiction. Add historical fiction author to Louisa May Alcott’s many credits. Who knew?

Happy Thanksgiving from the Damsels!

Common Cooking

November 23, 2009

America Frugal Housewife


There is a great difference in preparing mince meat. Some make it a coarse, unsavory dish; and others make it nice and palatable. No economical house-keeper will despise it; for broken bits of meat and vegetables cannot so well be disposed of in any other way. If you wish to have it nice, mash your vegetables fine, and chop your meat very fine. Warm it with what remains of sweet gravy, or roast-meat drippings, you may happen to have. Two or three apples, pared, cored, sliced, and fried, to mix with it, is an improvement. Some like a little sifted sage sprinkled in.

…presented to you from The American Frugal Housewife – Dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy, by Mrs. Child…

Contest: The Other Half of Life

November 20, 2009

To win a signed copy of Kim Ablon Whitney’s World War II novel, The Other Half of Life, go to her website,, and click the “author interview” tab.  In the interview, you’ll see a link to Kim’s interview with a survivor of the real ship that inspired the book.  Post one fact about the survivor, or email damselsinregress [at] gmail [dot] com, by Monday, November 30 (since one week after this post is Thanksgiving weekend and I won’t be paying enough attention to draw a winner’s name:)  Tip: if you get to this early, you get your choice of facts to post.  Otherwise, you’ve got to come up with something no one else mentioned.  Good luck!

Interview with Kim Ablon Whitney

November 18, 2009

Our interview for this month is Kim Ablon Whitney, author of The Other Half of Life.  She lives in New England not far from Jennifer but shares a passion for World War II with me, so she fits right in on our little blog!

1.  World War II was the scariest time period in living memory, yet so many people, myself included, feel a strong connection to it.  Could you try to tell me what it is about this era that draws you in?  

I have a personal connection to the era in that my mother was born in Austria in 1941 but otherwise I think times of incredible hardship always captivate me.  I wonder, what would I have done in such a situation?  How did people make the decisions they did and how did they face such trauma?

2.  What was it that led you to tell this particular story?

I was actually doing research for another story about the WWII time period when I came across the story of the St. Louis.  I was immediately fascinated by this heart-wrenching story and also shocked that I had never heard of it before.  I thought the questions it raised about immigration policy are still incredibly relevant today and that for many reasons it would make a good topic for a young adult book.

Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: The Other Half of Life

November 16, 2009

The Other Half of Life
Kim Ablon Whitney
Grades 7-10
256 pages

The Other Half of LifeThe Other Half of Life is based on the true story of a ship-full of Jewish refugees escaping Germany in 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II.  The central character, fifteen-year-old Thomas, is the son of a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman who were part of a resistance group in Berlin.  When his father is taken to the Dachau concentration camp, Thomas’s mother gets him passage on the MS St. Francis bound for Cuba so he can live with his older half-brother, Walter, in safety.

Most of the book takes place onboard the ship.  Thomas makes friends with the Affedlt family, including their oldest daughter, Priska, who is a year younger than him.  Together they play shuffleboard with other children and play tricks on some of the adult passengers.  Priska enjoys traveling aboard the luxurious ship, but Thomas can’t forget the rumors he hears among the crew: other, faster ships are heading for Cuba and might fill the immigration quotas before they can dock.

The story has a bittersweet ending that shows the many tragedies Europe faced in this era.  Not to give anything away, but all does not work out as planned for those on the ship.  Still, I had great respect for Kim Ablon Whitney for being able to create action and suspense in such a confined setting.  I had my doubts at first, but as I continued reading, I was more and more drawn into life aboard this ship, as well as the individual struggles of the characters.  The large cast of passengers showed many different situations and opinions on the pending war and the more immediate concern of escaping Germany permanently.

Whitney also used chess throughout the book, both to show conflict in other areas and as part of the action.  It is through the chess games that we see the most growth from Thomas, from accepting what happened to his father to learning to put his father’s lessons into practice to learning to accept others.  Even though I couldn’t always follow the detailed move descriptions, I could understand what was going on beneath the surface of the game and it made a great layer for the story.

Keeping up-to- and out-of-Date

November 12, 2009

I recently met with a literary agent who reviewed the opening pages of my novel A Common Language.  While this book was my thesis at SHU, I worked my tail off to make sure it was historically and culturally accurate.  At the request of my mentors and critique partners, out went the words “like” when I meant “such as,” “can I” when I meant “may I,” and “grounded” when referring to the punishment of not leaving the house.  And that’s not even counting all the British-American words like “wireless” for “radio,” “jumper” for “sweater” (and “gym slip” for “jumper”), “post” for “mail,” and so on.

But in being so careful about what my first-person narrator could not say, as she’s an English teen in 1940, the first five pages also became void of her personality, which has a lot of spark and fight to it under its proper verneer.  Someone reading only to page five, like this literary agent, though, didn’t know about her drive to be the best at school, her compassion for her little sister, her resourcefulness when things don’t go as planned, and her talent for trading insults with her host family’s oldest son.  And those things are, in some ways, more important than being 100% historically accurate with everything my protagonist says.

As this agent pointed out, those personality traits are what connect the readers of today to historical characters.  They’re what make yesteryear leap off the page and turn into a time full of real people.  Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle books do this by giving Gemma all the sarcasm and angst of any current teen TV show, even though she lives in Victorian England.  What I Saw and How I Lied, which I reviewed, does this by having Evelyn and her best friend long to grow up and wear lipstick and date, longings many young teens can relate to.

I’ve tried to do it by bringing in my Evelyn’s friends and schoolmates on top of her family worries.  As she sees her chance of being Head Girl at her London boarding school slipping away, she now also sees her school rival claiming the title, which doesn’t set well with her.  I hope some of today’s smart, driven teens can relate to this and see that even though Evelyn’s life differs from theirs, they do have something in common.

What’s your “way in” for modern kids reading your historical work (or fantasy, or anything taking place in a world very different from ours)?