Tilar J. Mazzeo: Irena’s Children: A True Story of Courage

October 17, 2016 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

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Irena’s Children: A True Story of Courage – 9781476778501 – Gallery Books – Hardcover – $26 – ebook versions available at lower prices.

Author Tilar Mazzeo is a terrific storyteller, who took on the task to tell the world about an inspiring, heroic and terrifying story with this book, the true story of one woman who, with a network of associates, saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis during World War II. The main subject of the book is Irena Sendler, who was a young social worker in Warsaw, living in a socially and politically progressive milieu, when the Germans began World War II by invading Poland.

Poland, of course, was quickly defeated by the larger and more modern German army. The conquered country’s resources, human and otherwise, were turned toward the use of the German war effort, with hundreds of thousands of Poles used as slave laborers as their country was occupied by a brutal military regime. And the Germans then began their concerted efforts to destroy the large Jewish population of that country. While many Poles opposed the Nazis, with partisans fighting them from the outset of the war, some Poles were active collaborators with the Fascists, and many more simply did their best to survive under impossible conditions.

Some Poles risked everything to rescue Jews from the near total eradication of that community that the Germans sought.

Irena Sendler and a close circle of her friends and work associates undertook what we now can recognize as an heroic effort to save some of the children of the Warsaw ghetto. For almost four years, they took immense risks and dangers upon themselves and their families, to rescue innocents from the horrors they could see were happening all around them.

While everything in this book reads like a terrifying, fast-paced novel, Mazzeo has pieced together a completely true story of unimaginable heroism by many “regular” citizens of Poland. Irena Sendler, together with the help of a network of local people and the Jewish resistance, was able to save upwards of 2,500 Jewish children from likely death in the brutal concentration camps to which most Polish Jews were sent. Irena herself went back and forth into the Jewish ghetto, sneaking children out in a myriad of ways, and then found refuge for the children with local Polish families, convents, churches and farmers.

It was an incredible effort. Irena Sendler knew the terrible risks – she was at one point brutally tortured by the Gestapo – but also knew she could not fail to act.

It is incredible that she and so many of her cohorts survived the war. But then, of course, she and Poland had to survive the takeover of her country by the Soviets, and that meant that the story of her wartime heroism could not be told until long after the war had ended. Mazzeo’s effort here to celebrate and tell this amazing story is extraordinary, and much appreciated. Irena Sendler and her network of heroes serves as inspiration and constant reminder that we “regular citizens” must be prepared to face moral choices at any time, sometimes with dire consequences. So many good people were killed in this terrible war.

It is impossible to read this book and not wonder how any of us would have responded then. And of course we must each ask our selves honestly, how will we respond when our time to act is upon us?

I really enjoyed reading this book. It brought up powerful emotions and important questions. Mazzeo is both a fine writer and a terrific researcher, and in this book displays both those talents in full flower. We had a really interesting conversation about this book. There is so much in it I did not want to discuss in detail, so readers will be able to have the full experience of the book for themselves, but we had much to talk about nonetheless.

Tilar Mazzeo is the Clara C. Piper Associate Professor of English at Colby College, in Waterville, Maine. She is the author of numerous works of narrative nonfiction, including the New York Times bestselling The Widow Clicquot.

There’s a wonderful portrait of Sendler, written while she was still alive here and a website devoted to her life and story called Life in a Jar.irena-sendler-in-a-nurses-outfit-during-wwii_6110710895_o-226x30067071f_6a1d197c9c954c6184997bd0cfee928b-mv2

Mark Burstein: The Annotated Alice: 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

November 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Children's Authors, Fiction, WritersCast

Annotated Alice_mech 4p_r1.indd978-0393245431 – W.W. Norton – Hardcover – 432 pages – $39.95 – by Lewis Carroll (Author), Martin Gardner (Editor), Mark Burstein (Editor)

I suspect many of us take Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll for granted, assume we know all about the book and its eccentric author from what we read when young and subsequently have picked up over the years. This beautiful and wonderfully produced book is the corrective – for most of us, everything we could possibly want to know about the author and his work will be found here – and more. Charles Dodgson – Lewis Carroll’s real name – was a thoroughly interesting man, mathematician, scholar, an odd Victorian whose fascination (obsession?) with the young Alice Liddell prompted him to invent a strange and compelling world that has fascinated so many of us. And that, of course, included Martin Gardner, himself a brilliant thinker, writer, and mathematician whose own oeuvre is incredibly rich and diverse.

Annotated Alice was first published in 1959, and since then it has sold over half a million copies worldwide. Gardner worked diligently through the text for many years, and decoded many of the mathematical riddles and wordplay that lay ingeniously embedded in Carroll’s two classic stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

The Definitive Edition of The Annotated Alice, published in 1999, combined the notes of Gardner’s 1959 edition with his 1990 volume, More Annotated Alice, as well as additional discoveries drawn from Gardner’s broad knowledge of the Carroll works. It was illustrated with John Tenniel’s classic art—along with many recently discovered Tenniel pencil sketches.

This newly released 150th anniversary edition includes a great deal more – especially wonderful are the brilliant Alice illustrations by a wide range of artists and illustrators, including Ralph Steadman, Salvatore Dali and Beatrix Potter, among others. Also included are more than 100 new or updated annotations collected since the publication of the Definitive Edition of The Annotated Alice, a preface by Mark Burstein, president emeritus of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, and all of Gardner’s introductions to other editions plus a really interesting filmography of Alice-related films compiled by Carroll scholar David Schaefer.

This is an eye opening collection for those of us who have not studied Carroll’s work closely before, and a rich trove for those who have.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the entertaining and knowledgeable Mark Burstein about this book. Mark is the president emeritus of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America and the editor of or contributor to fourteen books about Carroll. Burstein owns some 2,000 editions of Alice in Wonderland in sixty languages, and around 1,500 books by or about Lewis Carroll.Mark Burstein 51rosEa1tLL._SX150_

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Kate Wilson

In this ongoing series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I believe that these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

I was recently introduced to the apps and books created by the new UK based children’s publisher Nosy Crow.  I bought their first app, the Three Little Pigs and immediately understood that this company had a vision and an approach that made sense to me.  Here is the message from their website that caught my attention right way:

“We make innovative, multimedia, highly interactive apps for tablets, smart phones and other touchscreen devices. These apps are not existing books squashed onto phones, but instead are specially created to take advantage of the devices to tell stories and provide information to children in new and engaging ways.”  Books too by the way.

When I finally got a chance to talk to company founder Kate Wilson, I found out right away why the company is so smart, and off to such a great start.  I believe that Kate deeply understands how technology and publishing can and will intersect for the creation of great experiences for children readers.  She has a vision, one that makes sense, and she has combined creativity with a keen sense of what parents and children want both from new technologies and from traditional books.  And her experience in publishing has taught her important lessons which she is now applying in this new publishing space (after attending Oxford University, she worked for a number of UK children’s publishers, including Macmillan Children’s and Scholastic UK, both of which she ran.  If you are interested in how children’s publishing is going to evolve, I suggest paying close attention to Nosy Crow, and of course listening to this conversation with Kate Wilson.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Rick Richter

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I believe these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

I’ve known Rick Richter for a number of years.  He is smart, energetic and incredibly creative.  I am told he plays a mean guitar too.  He’s unusual in publishing for having been a leader in both sales and editorial, and for being at heart, an innovator and entrepreneur.  I have talked to him a number of times over the past couple of years about his thinking and ideas, and have been interested in his new venture, Ruckus Media since it was still a brainstorm generated idea.  Unlike many brainstormed ideas, this one has become real, and very quickly too.

Ruckus represents at least one budding trend in publishing for kids – which is to be born digital and to stay that way.  Print, ink and paper will be someone else’s job.  At a recent Digital Book World presentation, Rick’s signature statement about his new work was this: “books you can play with and games you can read.”

Rick is currently President, CEO, and Chair, Ruckus Media Group.  Previous to founding Ruckus, he was President and Publisher of the Simon & Schuster Children’s Division (1996 – 2008).  In 1990, Rick co-founded Candlewick Press, the prestigious children’s publisher based in Boston.

“The goal of Ruckus is to combine the most creative minds in children’s media with tremendously exciting new mobile devices. We’ll be satisfied when a mom or dad can hand their phone or tablet to their child without one ounce of guilt, knowing that the experience the child is about to have will entertain them, challenge them, perhaps make them giggle, and be utterly satisfying.” Beginning in May, Rick will be an adjunct professor at the NYU Master of Science Program in Publishing.

Rick and I had a great talk, not just about what he is doing at Ruckus to make change and create a new way of publishing for kids, but also about the future of digital publishing and much more.  Ruckus, along with a number of other new digital publishers are in the process of establishing new ways for children to experience books and reading in some very exciting ways.  And it looks like they are having alot of fun doing it.

Andi Silverman: Mama Knows Breast: A Beginner’s Guide to Breastfeeding

September 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction

399719561978-1594741654 – paperback – Quirk Books – $14.95

Andi Silverman, author of Mama Knows Breast, interviewed by Writerscast host David Wilk

As a middle aged man, I am clearly not the audience for this book, but when I saw a copy of the book and read the first few chapters I knew right away this would be an author I wanted to interview.  Mama Knows Breast is a great title for a book (as well as for the author’s very well put together and consistently informative website). And her publisher, Quirk Books, has put together a beautifully produced paperback with very cool and comforting illustrations.

As the author, Andi Silverman tells me in our interview, she wanted to write the book she needed when she was looking around at books about breastfeeding – something not medical, or like a textbook, but a book for moms by a mom, with humor, a caring approach, and above all, not judgmental regardless of the decisions each mom makes about breastfeeding.

And of course, as she rightly points out, breastfeeding is not just a subject for women.  Having been father to two breastfed children, I can attest this is true.  Breastfeeding is not a choice that every woman or family can make of course.  But breast milk is healthy and natural, and better for the baby and child than any formula.  My interview with Andi Silverman reflects her spirit and approach as an author – she is full of good advice gently given, and is someone almost any woman would want to consult for advice.

Interview with Alan Katz

January 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Children's Authors, Poetry

goinggoinggonekatz
Going, Going, Gone!: And Other Silly Dilly Sports Songs
Alan Katz and David Catrow
ISBN# 978-1416906964
Simon & Schuster, Hardcover $16.99

The first WritersCast podcast of 2009 has host David Wilk interviewing author humorist Alan Katz, author of more than 20 books for children and adults. His newest book is Going, Going, Gone, coming in February 2009. Wilk and Katz talk about a wide range of subjects, including Katz’s writing methods and experience as a writer. Alan Katz gives his first public performance of songs from his newest book.