Today I have the privilege of sharing an interview I recently conducted with author Carla Jablonski, who’s written many books for teens and young adults. You can visit her website and find out more about her and her books at carlajablonski.com. Her first graphic novel, Resistance: Book 1, has recently been published by First Second. What follows is a conversation we had about this book, which focuses on the French resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II and in particular about the efforts of a French family to save French Jews.
1. The narrative, while fictional, is based in historical fact and makes reference to several historical events and circumstances. The Velodrome d’Hiver roundup, the use the Paris sewers as hiding places and the significant presence of French Jews in the Resistance are all alluded to, and although it’s not named explicitly, Paul and Marie’s efforts to help Henri recall the activities of the Oeuvre de secours aux enfants (Children’s Relief Efforts or OSE). When you were researching all this for the book, did you learn anything that surprised you about the Resistance or about France during the war, or anything else?
So much! As an American, what I learned in school was primarily about the American entrance into the war, or very specifically about the Jewish experience. I really didn’t know all that much about what it must have been like for ordinary French people during the war, their daily life, their struggles, and — especially — the ways life, although altered, still went on.
I admit I was shocked by the wide-spread and deep strain of anti-Semitism in France, resulting in an overwhelming amount of denunciations. I was also surprised by — and then used as part of the story — all of the conflicts within the Resistance itself.
The role of luck and coincidence in many of the successful — or tragic — events of the Resistance also was quite startling.
2. What was it about the Resistance that intrigued you? Why is it an important subject to learn about in the context of Holocaust studies for children?
The passion and commitment of people who became part of the Resistance was very compelling to me. How people made choices, what they were willing to risk, and conversely, what lines they weren’t willing to cross were all elements I wanted to explore. Also, the struggle for victory against enormous odds while suffering terrible difficulties is both dramatic and inspiring. I also find the idea of secrets a very appealing subject for fiction– keeping them, having them, and the danger of them — particularly as an element in a book for early teens.
For all those same reasons that I was drawn to the Resistance is why I think it’s an important subject for children to learn about. Children often feel helpless in the face of conflicts created by adults. These people took action — in spite of so much being against them and the dire consequences of failure. Doing the right thing, even if that makes you the minority, is also an important lesson. Discovering that people can all want to do the right thing, yet not agree on how to go about it is also an important topic that can be discussed via the Resistance.
3. One thing I enjoyed about the book from a reader’s perspective was the way you built the suspense slowly and tell the story unflinchingly, sparing neither the horror nor trauma of war. Was it challenging to present these things in a way that’s appropriate for children? What audience did you envision as you were writing?
I’ve written a lot for kids and teens, so I actually didn’t find that difficult. I guess I’ve somehow internalized those limits and so the story unfolds in an age-appropriate way without my consciously having to police it!
I think the ideal reader for this is probably about thirteen, though I hope it will appeal to those older (like Sylvie and Jacques) and to those who are younger, like Marie.
4. What themes or ideas were you trying to illustrate with the choices you made about how to tell the story?
I purposely chose to have three children at different ages so that I could explore the impact of the war at different levels of maturity. Because it’s a graphic novel, I decided to make Paul an artist to really exploit the visual medium. I came up with ideas for his drawings in his sketchbook to reveal what he’s feeling but wouldn’t feel comfortable expressing another way — while also providing a believable skill that would make him valuable to the Resistance. It was also really important to me to not just be historically accurate (while also being entertaining) but to allow the kids to really be kids — not little superheroes or overly noble. I worked hard on the dialogue so that it would have the feel of real conversation.
5. This book is titled Resistance Book 1, suggesting that there may be a Book 2 in the works. Is there? What’s it going to be about?
Actually there are two more! It’s a trilogy, following Marie, Paul, and Sylvie through to the liberation of Paris. Each book is set one year apart, and as the kids get older and more deeply involved, the conflicts get more intense and the stakes get higher. Their roles in the Resistance change, they uncover more secrets about people they know, and their relationships change — with friends, with other Resistance members, with Germans, and even with each other — sometimes quite dramatically!