Wave Me Good-Bye
Wave Me Good-Bye
Each of your books is based on a real person, how did you find the inspiration for Miriam in Wave Me Good-bye?
Miriam is based on a woman named Roslyn Arnstein who grew up in the only Jewish family in her Bronx neighborhood. I happened on Roslyn when I was doing research for my book Dancing in Combat Boots, and we got to chatting about her childhood in New York City. She had so many great stories, and I had been wanting to find a way to include a Jewish family and some details about the Holocaust in my series, so hers was an obvious story to tell.
What surprised you while researching this book?
I think I was surprised by how much the Jewish community in America knew about what was happening to the Jews in Europe. There were rumors and even some leaked pictures of the camps. The New York Jewish community, in particular, really rallied for our government to let in more refugees or to take action on what was happening in Europe, but to little avail. One person told me that not a single Jewish family in America was untouched by the Holocaust. They all knew friends or relatives that perished in the terrible event.
Is that why you chose to include a story line about Rachel, a Jewish refugee from the Holocaust?
Yes. I wanted to find a way to introduce young readers to the Holocaust in the way that a Jewish child in America would learn about it, through a refugee. Rachel's story is tragic, and I wanted to leave certain parts unresolved so the kids would continue to wonder what happened to her family. This is actually one of the only books in print that depicts a Jewish family on the home-front during the war. For that reason, it's a good introduction to the subject of the Holocaust for young readers because they get to experience the sadness of the event, but they are not yet exposed to all the details.
The larger story line in this book deals with the friendship between Chris, an English evacuee from London, and Miriam. How did that story line develop?
Roslyn had mentioned that there was an orphanage near her home, and during the war, it housed English evacuees. As I researched the story, I came to discover that the children were from the Actors' Orphanage, which was created in England to care for the children of mostly stage actors who had either passed away or were too ill to care for their children. The orphanage was supported partly by American movie stars, and they came often to visit the kids in New York. Such a fascinating and forgotten tidbit from history. I simply had to include that story. And I wanted to keep the original aspect, which was that Roslyn would take to these kids only through the fence.
The friendship between Chris and Miriam is of great interest to young readers. How did you make a friendship that takes place through a fence grow and develop?
That was a challenge I was eager to tackle. I had this idea that kids can make friends anywhere, and in any situation. So I wanted to try something unusual. I wanted to end each chapter with Miriam talking to Chris through the fence. He would become her confidante and help her make sense of a senseless world. I wanted to do it mainly through dialogue, because I felt my young readers would relate thoroughly to this friendship, even though it takes place back in the 1940s. My writer's group said I'd never get away with it -- having the second half of every chapter return to the fence, but I knew kids would like it, and they do. My fans and the teachers I work with all tell me that is the kids' favorite part of the book. Of course, it helps that this is a friendship between a boy and a girl, which is perilous territory to young reader.
Most of your books feature the real-life inspirations for the books on the covers. Is that true here?
Yes. The girl you see on the cover is a depiction of the real-life Miriam. The boy, though, was created by my illustrator, loosely based on a picture I gave her of one of the boys in the family I lived with in London when I was in college. That boy, too, was named Christopher. As with all of my covers, there is much history to be learned in the artwork. The building is a drawing of one of the actual buildings at the orphanage. The comic book cover is a close representation of covers from that time period, and, of course, we work really hard to get the details of clothing and hair correct on every cover. It's great fun to work with the illustrator. We start with a little stick-figure drawing of what I have in my head, and then she makes magic.