Interview with Kim Ablon Whitney

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.

3.  What challenges did you face while researching for this book?

There is so much information about the Holocaust and WWII that one challenge was stopping myself from continuing to research and starting to write.  If I had wanted to I could have researched the topic my whole life and always be learning new and important information but at some point I had to dive into the story.  It’s also daunting to write about such an important subject and I worried whether I could do it justice but again, at some point I just had to trust myself and start writing.  Luckily, I was able to work with a survivor of the St. Louis, Herbert Karliner, and he was very helpful in terms of details about the voyage and making sure my account was accurate.
4.  What do you want readers to take away from this book, especially in terms of the time period?
So many books on the Holocaust focus on the later years of the War and the death camps.  I wanted to give readers more of a sense of the slow incringement of Nazi rule.  One comment I’ve heard from young people a lot about the Holocaust is “Why didn’t people just leave?”  With the way life is today versus the way it was back then, this mindset is completely understandable.  To give people an idea of how it was different back then, I wanted to look more closely at how people tried to flee Germany, the possible (although slim) options, and why others didn’t leave.
5.  What were some of your favorite historical novels as a child?  Any more recent favorites?  
I loved The Summer of My German Soldier, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.  Since then some ones I’ve enjoyed include Number the Stars, Out of the Dust, and A Northern Light.
6.  Do you have any other historical projects in the works, or any other eras you’d like to explore?  
I have always been drawn to the late 60’s/early 70’s, the Vietnam era.  For a while I’ve thought about setting a novel during that time period and I imagine one of these days I’ll do it!
Thanks so much for your interview, Kim!  For those who are interested, more information about Kim can be found at her website,  (Hint: to enter the contest to win Kim’s book, you’ll have to pay this site a visit.)

4 Responses to Interview with Kim Ablon Whitney

  1. indyretreats says:

    that’s cool, i just interviewed Holocaust survivor Gabriele Silten on my blog yesterday…her’s is a very gripping story of survival and loss during one of the darkest periods of human history…please stop by and leave a comment

  2. Tricia says:

    Nice interview. How cool to be able to talk to someone who lived through the experiences on the St. Louis. First-hand research!

  3. Emilie says:

    That interview can be found on her web site, and in fact it will come into play for the contest later this week:) I’ve gotten to do a few personal interviews, mostly informally with my grandpa, but also with Mike’s great-aunt, Emma Belle Petcher, who was on Ken Burns’ “The War.” I also spoke to a former evacuee who Leslie knows, but alas, she was a bit reserved and I’ve gotten much more out of written accounts. Though of course, if Evelyn and Sara were interviewed by a 20-something American so long after the fact, they wouldn’t be all that forthcoming either:)

  4. […] Kim Ablon Whitney’s The Other Half of Life won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and the 2010 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Teen Readers.  It’s also now out in paperback. […]

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