Book Review: SHANGHAI PASSAGE by Gregory Patent

SHANGHAI PASSAGE by Gregory Patent

Illustrated by Ted Lewin

Genre: middle grade autobiography/memoir

SHANGHAI PASSAGE is a collection of memories of the author, Gregory Patent, as a young child living in Shanghai at the end of World War II. Born in Hong Kong, Gregory was a British citizen to Russian and Iraqi parents. His stories are from the age of five, when the war ended, until he was around eleven when his family emigrated to the US.

My Take:

I picked up this book a few years ago from a school that was discarding it from their library. It has been sitting on my shelf and I’ve been wanting to read it. The cover has always tempted me to read it, but for some reason I’ve never taken the time. This summer I added it to my list for the Summer Reading Challenge by Amy Young. I’m so glad I did. Gregory’s story is just fascinating. The time period, the city, his cross-cultural family dynamic, and his opinions as a third culture kid – just a great read. He is truly a boy that has grown up, as Marilyn Gardener has coined, “between worlds“. As a mom raising some TCKs and CCKs, I was drawn to his thoughts about friends leaving, learning his father’s mother-tongue, and countless other things that Gregory shares in this very short book.

Honestly, I wanted to know more about this young man. So, I did some research and found that he is a cookbook author. You can read more about his life and try some of his reciepies at his website, The Baking Wizard.

To Throw a Zhongzi or Not to Throw it – that is the question.

Photo Credit: MaDonna Maurer

I’ve come to conclude that no matter how long you’ve lived in a country you can always learn something new. Sometimes, it is as simple as a vocabulary word or phrase. Other times, it is something more cultural like holidays, food, or traditions.

And sometimes, and honestly most of the time, it is learning or relearning to obtain a teachable attitude sprinkled with humility (okay, maybe humility needs to be poured like water out of a bucket).

Why is it so difficult sometimes to do this?

I am an adult, I should be able have an adult conversation and not sound like a child, age 6.

I’ve lived here x-number of years and it still bothers me when I am told certain things about my body.

Why is it that I either have too many clothes on my baby or not enough clothes on? I’m never right?

The answer I believe to why it is so difficult is Pride. Some of us just have more of it than others.

Yesterday was the Dragon Boat Festival. School is off for a few days and people are making zhongzi, which is sticky rice mixed with mushrooms, shallots, small shrimp, and sauces stuffed inside a bamboo leaf along with a piece of meat, duck egg yolk, peanuts, and another mushroom (or as I have learned this week, a variation depending on where you live). After the wrapped bundle is steamed, you unwrap it and eat the fragrant delicacies inside.

This week I was invited to participate with some other moms to make zhongzi. I knew this would be challenging, but fun and tasty. I honestly wasn’t prepared for what the challenge would really be. Let me unfold the events for you…

I watched as the “teacher” showed us how to do it. In my mind, I thought it didn’t look too difficult.

I could not have been more wrong.

On my first try I was told by one lady that it wasn’t a triangle. Another laughed. The “teacher” came over and took it out of my hands and showed me again.

I tried again.

And again.

And again.

Yep, I stuffed and wrapped, but according to those around me none of them were quite right.

Here’s where the battle began for me.

After the fourth one, as I was “laughing” along with the others, but on the inside wanted to through the ball of sticky-ness across the room – I had a choice to make.

  1. Quit and be angry.
  2. Laugh with them, but inside be seething angry.
  3. Laugh at myself and keep trying.

The first option would be bad. Some of these women I’m friends with and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings or make them feel guilty. Honestly, their critiques were signs that they wanted me to succeed with this project – not put a dunce cap on my head.

The second one would be easy. I can fake emotions for the sake of the situation. (Don’t looked shocked! I know you can do it too.) And honestly, I did this for the first bit while I was thinking through my reactions (remember I wanted to throw it across the room). But, I didn’t like how it was making me feel.

As I looked around at the other tables, I realized that they were laughing at each other as they were also having trouble making them. You see, in my mind, I thought I, as the only foreigner present, was the only one getting critiqued and laughed at. Not true.

So, from that moment on I chose to laugh at myself and to keep trying. I’m not sure I made any that were exactly right, but I do know that I left with a better attitude and a bag full of zhongzi to feed my family.

My zhongzi bundle.
My neighbor’s zhongzi bundle. What it should look like.

Two days later another friend invited me and my daughters to her house to make zhongzi and jiaozi together. Let me say, I went into this situation much better equipped for the challenge that I knew would be there. Plus, I was able to help my daughter “laugh” at herself, reminding her that it’s okay not to get it right at all this first time. What is important is spending time with our friends laughing and talking; building relationships.

Photo Credit: MaDonna Maurer

Moral of my story? Don’t let pride stop you from building relationships with the people in your host country. They have so much to offer. And don’t forget that our children are watching us in how we respond to situations that seem a little difficult.

So, got a story to share on something you’ve learned or relearned? Please share in the comments below.

Bittersweet

Image by KathyBarclay from Pixabay

Bittersweet is a plant. It has bright colored berries that would seem sweet and juicy, but are actually toxic and harmful if eaten. Another definition of bittersweet is, “arousing pleasure tinged with sadness or pain” (Lexico). This is what most people are familiar with.

Life is generally like this. A little bit bitter. A little bit sweet. It mixes together and creates the story of our life. Sometimes the bitter seems toxic – and maybe it is, in which case, seek help – but most of the time, the bitter is just a time of growth.

My son just graduated from high school. Bittersweet was the one description I think I heard and felt through this whole experience.

Bitter – My first born completely finished this chapter of his childhood. That book is completed. It is shelved; to be looked at like a scrapbook full of memories. He’ll be leaving and living across an ocean soon; 12-24 hours away.

Sweet – We’re proud of his accomplishments. This new adventure is just beginning and it is exciting. Who will he become? How will he grow?

These two words together capture the feelings of a parent or sibling – and possibly even the graduate, as well.

But, aren’t most transitions “bittersweet”?

Bitter – packing, saying good-bye to places, saying good-bye to people, watching your children hurt

Sweet – maybe living closer to family, new adventure with new foods & culture, recognizing how many good friends you have

As this summer plays out and the time gets closer to board that plane with my oldest, my emotions teeter back and forth from feeling bitter and sad, to sweet and proud and then back to sad.

I want him to go, yet I don’t.

I want him to grow up, yet I want him to need me, to need his father.

I believe this is the dilemma of many parents. We work and endure those early years to train our kids to be responsible mature adults, but when the time comes to send them off we feel that this isn’t the right time. It’s too soon.

As a Christian, I wondered if the word “bittersweet” was in the Bible. I couldn’t find the word, but I found a passage where both words are used. Exodus 15:22-25. This is the point in the story where Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea. They were headed into the Desert of Shur, where there was no water.

The people complained because the only water they found was at the place “Marah”, which was bitter.

Moses cried out to God.

God showed him a piece of wood.

Moses threw the piece of wood into the water.

Sweet water. Drinkable water.

It doesn’t say, but I’m guessing the crowds were happy once again – or at least relieved.

This little word search led me to an old story from long ago, in which God used a stick to make bitter water sweet.

My situation isn’t terrible. It’s not life-threatening, but it has some bitterness that is harder to walk through.

It requires trust.

Trusting my son.

Trusting God.

Right now sitting in my home where my son is just in the next room I can honestly say it’s easy to trust.

But,

I know that when “move-in” day comes and I drive away with him standing in the parking lot of his dorm, my eyes will be blurry from the streams of bittersweet tears as I put that trust into action.

How have you seen “bittersweet” play out in your own life?

Transition: Helping Your Children Through Change

Photo Credit by Canva

Transition is part of life. People move. Children come into the family. Special people and pets die. For those living overseas this rhythm of transition brings an odd normalcy, which one could easily sway or tap their foot.

In and out.

Come and go.

Up and down.  

Arrive depart.

Turn around and start again.

But, after a few years of this dance our minds stand guard. Emotions must stand against the wall and not step foot on the dance floor. Sometimes transition requires helping children through change.

If we find ourselves either in this awkward dance or stuck against the wall, what about our kids? They learn the dance early. How well they learn it or how to avoid it really depends on a few things. As parents we need to be mindful of them and how they are handling all the transitions, this includes children with special needs. My second child has Cri-du-Chat Syndrome and is mentally delayed. Though she can communicate, she is non-verbal. She has had her fair share of transitions as she spent most of her life outside of her passport country.

Her brother just graduated from high school last week. 

You can read the rest at Multicultural Kid Blogs where I am a guest writer today.

RAFTing: Dreams vs Reality

You are in the midst of building your RAFT, but you’ve always pictured rafting to look somewhat like this photo above.

It’s calm.

It’s peaceful.

It’s picturesque.

It’s, well you fill in the blank.

It’s suppose to be a time where you enjoy your friendships and your favorite places.

Your home fits nicely into boxes. The junk drawers and overstuffed closets are not to be found, for the moving fairy came and organized them while you were having coffee with the girls.

Your new destination is going to be like paradise.

My sunglasses are rose colored. I promise that the world looks SO much better with them on. I’m not joking. We’ll be driving along the coast and I’ll ooh and ahh about the ocean color or the sunset, but then I slip off my glasses and reality is nice, but it just isn’t as nice. Building a RAFT requires you to not put on rose colored glasses, but instead to be real. Doesn’t RAFTing as a family look more like the photo below?

And if you have children with special needs you are tied to them, possibly pulling them along.

Boxes are stacked all over the house.

“What do you mean you want to take ALL of your stuffed animals? Didn’t we agree that we’d only take 10?”

“What do you mean you’ll be home late again? You know the shipping company is coming to measure how much space we will need. I can’t comprehend what they will be saying while wrangling mini-you and feeding mini-me.”

Kids are crying. You are crying. You’re out of tissues.

You’ve given all your food away to friends and now you are hungry for that bag of chocolate covered almonds.

You get the picture. Nothing has gone the way you planned except that the airline tickets are set for you to leave in a few weeks. How are you going to get it all done and build that RAFT, let alone help your kids with it?

First take a deep breath, or maybe take a few. Relax.

It will get all done. I promise that the important things will get done. Remember to keep it all in perspective.

Prioritize your list of things to do and people to see.

Recruit help. Friends want to help. They can watch kids, clean house/rooms at the end, and even provide you with a meal. But, you have to let them know what would be the best way for them to help.

Have take-out more often. Invite people you need to see “one last time.” You need to eat. They need to eat. So eat together.

Keep that bag of chocolate covered almonds. Don’t give those away. You might need those.

Breathe.

Fill box and tape shut.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

*Image by judithscharnowski  at Pixabay

** Image by julianomarini from Pixabay

Mother’s Day and one month until…

It’s Mother’s Day weekend and technically less than a month until my oldest dons the cap and gown of a graduate. (Yes, his class will be one of a handful of graduates in the world who actually gets to experience a real ceremony.) Yet, even if they didn’t, I think I’d be pondering and reminiscing this weekend anyway.

My oldest was the one who first called me “Mama”.

Besides his father, of course, he was the first to steal my heart, bring such pure joy and delight.

And in less than a month – he graduates. Three months later he’ll be living across the ocean from us – not just over the mountains.

I knew living overseas was going to be hard. I knew when I married Uwe that life would be full of good-byes. I mean, I’ve said my fair share of good-byes, but I’ve also watched friends say good-bye to their own graduates. I’ve listened to them in their mixture of grief and excitement. I’ve been preparing my heart and mind all school year for this.

But, let me tell you – No matter how you think you’ve prepared for this day:

It. Still. Hurts.

I’ve looked back at other posts that I’ve made in previous years regarding Mother’s Day. I wrote about a surprise weekend that my husband and kids pulled off; a quiet picnic at the beach; and a letter to my younger self where I wish I had my “more mature self” write a letter to guide me through the teenage years.

This Mother’s Day feels different.

I feel like it is the last with my son.

And, well to be honest, it probably is the last where we’ll be “together”. But, that doesn’t mean I will stop being Mom, right? Of course not.

I can’t get a letter from my “more mature self”, but I can listen to those who have been on this path of motherhood and learn from them.

Like this morning.

My son’s school had a Mother’s Day Brunch for the mom’s of the graduating seniors. Crista Blackhurst, a mom who had her oldest graduate not too long ago, was the speaker. She had great wisdom for us, but the take away I am keeping for this weekend is.

“Be in the moment.”

As I began to ponder that phrase for this post I had some thoughts.

Be in the moment with my…

  • Body – that’s easy. I’m physically here with him now and will be with the girls tomorrow.
  • Mind – This one is harder. I want to think about the past or worry about the future, but I need to have my mind on the here and now when we are together. Soak in the moment. Trust that God has all the details worked out and will take care of my children.
  • Heart – This one is easier if the mind is in the moment. When we trust God, our hearts are at peace.

So, as this weekend begins and I get to celebrate with my son I want to fully enjoy it. And then when I’m celebrating later with my husband and girls, I want to fully enjoy them.

So, my Mother’s Day wish for each of you and myself is that we can

Be in the moment.

Be trusting of God.

Be at peace.

Happy Mother’s Day!

*photo credit: “Standing women facing speeding train” via pixels.com

Yellow Light Moments in Life

Sometimes your heart needs more time to accept what your mind already knows. ~ Author unknown

If you’ve heard this quote, most likely it had to do with a relationship that just ended unexpectedly, but this quote came to mind a few weeks ago and it seems very fitting to various scenarios of living and raising kids overseas.

Can you relate?

Yes? No? Maybe?

How about….

  • On the airplane, seat belt clicked in place, announcements drumming in your ear, tears slip down your face as the plane begins to push away from your family and everything known.
  • Or, maybe you’re the one staring at the empty seat across the table wondering if your loved one made all the connections okay and adjusting to their new home.
  • Or, maybe graduation is fast approaching and you know you should be celebrating – and you are, but there are moments of grief.
  • Or, maybe you just said rushed good-byes to friends who have become family…

Our heads take note of plans. We might highlight them on the calendar. We might post a countdown on social media. We might plan good-bye parties, sell our possessions, and do all the things that our head tells us to do. 

But, what about those times when it is all unexpected? Like last week.

We went to the foreign agency to renew our daughter’s passport. We donned our masks, took our temperatures, sprayed our hands and went through security. As we waited in the lobby, our daughter sat on the floor and opened the purple plastic tub full of treasures. She lined up all the small cars. She found the doctor’s equipment and checked her stuffed dog’s heart and gave him a shot. I was so thankful for the simple treasures to entertain her while we waited.

Our number was called and after the lady behind the counter looked at all the documents announced that she qualified for her first adult passport.

WHAT? 

YELLOW light – SLOW down. What do you mean “adult” passport?

While it is true that our daughter is 16, she is mentally more like a 2-4 year old. So, yes, technically she does qualify, but boy was my heart not ready.

Just a few months ago, I took our son to get his first adult passport. He’s 18 and I was totally expecting this. It was still bittersweet, mind you – but the heart was a bit more prepared. 

This was different. I went through the motions and paid the fees. 

This year has been quite the shake up. Who would have thought that life as we knew it could change so drastically. Kids are home doing what my husband at first coined “crisis school”, people are working from home, and others have been forced to leave their host countries within days. 

Just a few weeks ago as I was hugging a young lady who had just found out that she would be leaving in a couple of days, I whispered in her ear two thoughts. 

You see, even though I had just experienced this minor dilemma, I have had other heartwrenching experiences in the past that left me thinking “what now?”.

Like when my daughter almost died of pneumonia and later diagnosed with a mental and physical disability.

From that experience I knew what needed to be done. It is what I whispered in her ear.

  1. Survive these next few days. Do what you have to do to pack up and say good-bye to all those people and places you can.
  2. Grieve when you get to your new destination…grieve and process.

Survive and Process (which usually means grieving). 

Survive…

  • Pack, clean the house, sell what you can.
  • If at all possible say good-bye to people and places.
  • Get through those online classes one day at a time. 

Process…

  • Grieve the losses, take time to grieve
  • Journal your thoughts and emotions
  • Write letters to people you may not have had a chance to properly say good-bye to.
  • Talk to others who may also be going through the same thing – you are not alone, I’m sure.

For me, when my daughter was going through her health crisis – I did what I could to survive each day (ate food, talked to doctors, went to appointments, and took care of my almost 2 year old son). I processed by journaling, crying and praying to God for help, and I met with other parents who had children with the same diagnosis as my daughter.

At the government building, I signed the papers and paid the fees for her “adult” passport. When we got to the car, I looked at my husband and said, “Well, I wasn’t prepared for that.” Then we went to an authentic Mexican restaurant. 

Sometimes surviving and processing takes months, maybe even years. That morning it only took a few minutes.

Survive.

Process.

And if possible, later celebrate. (I highly recommend this.)

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

Book Review: STRONGER THAN DEATH by Rachel Pieh Jones

Be sure to read the author interview at the end. Rachel shares some of her memorable moments while researching for this book. You don’t want to miss that.

STRONGER THAN DEATH by Rachel Pieh Jones

Genre: Biography/Memoir

My Review:

STRONGER THAN DEATH tells the story of Annalena Tonelli, a woman from Italy, who was passionate about serving the poor, especially those affected by tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa. If you should Google Annalena’s name, you’ll find that she pushed the limits in most everything to accomplish all that she was involved in and honestly became well known in the world of humanitarian aid work. She has been described as a humanitarian aid worker, a missionary, a nun, and a social activist, though after reading this book I don’t believe she’d claim any of those descriptions. Through extensive research and countless interviews, Rachel shares a much broader picture of who Annalena was as a sister, a friend, a co-worker, a mother, and yes a Christian working with what many would label as “the least of these”. Annalena struggled, but as her story unfolds we see that her faith and love for the people she served came from God alone. Interwoven throughout this biography is historical and cultural facts about the people that call the Horn of Africa home, but it is also a memoir of sorts as Rachel shares how she and her family were affected by Annalena’s murder. On top of all this, there is some journalist reporting, as Rachel shares her own thoughts and questions regarding some of the decisions that Annalena made. I believe that if you are interested in the Horn of Africa, humanitarian aid work, female genital mutilation, or Muslim/Christian relationships than you should read this book.

My Take:

I cannot lie – this is a must read for any adult. You will be challenged in the way you think and live your life. I highlighted many sections of this book because the quotes are THAT good. Rachel’s style of writing was so refreshing to me – the threads of Annalena’s life, the culture of the nomadic people, the hot topics that are still relevant today, and Rachel’s own life all woven together really create just a beautiful wall tapestry that can be read in a book. Because honestly, a beautiful life comes from what we learn and gain from the hard and challenging, and yes even suffering that we go through.

Interview:

I can tell you’ve done extensive research for this book. It not only covers the life of Annalena, but some very hard topics and places in Africa. How long did it take from research to final draft? 

 I kind of started the research, without knowing it, when my family moved to and then fled from Somaliland in 2003! But that was just research by experience. The actual digging in and finding people and documents and dreaming of a book started around late 2013 with some conversations with my research partner, Matt Erickson. At first we talked about a film project, but it morphed into this book. I was finally able to gain access to her family members and other key people in 2016 and sold the book in 2017.

Were their times you just wanted to give up? If so, how did you stick with it and finish?

So many times! But two in particular. The first was when it became clear that her family in Italy weren’t initially excited about this project and wouldn’t answer any questions or engage with me. But after a full year of slowly massaging that relationship, of explaining that my goal wasn’t to sensationalize but to tell the real story (which had been sensationalized and manipulated in the past, and this hurt them, so they stopped talking with people), and through the quality documentary Matt Erickson produced for the UNHCR about her life (again demonstrating that I wanted to be respectful and accurate), they were willing to talk with me. And once they opened up, they really opened up! Other people were then willing to talk with me, they shared papers and photographs and it was absolutely incredible. The second time was when it took me so long and so many rejections to sell the book. I went through two agents and multiple conversations with editors but nothing worked out, nothing felt right, until I found Plough Publishing. I think I just felt compelled to press on, convinced there was an audience for this and even simply value in doing the work, because of how I was so personally impacted by what I found – which started to find its way into the manuscript as well.

Of all the people you interviewed, of the countless places you traveled, who or what stands out most in your mind?  

Oh wow. So many. So many good, beautiful people. The exchange of some of her items – that really moved me. Maria Teresa, her best friend, gave me one of Annalena’s prayer books. And Antonio, who had been held hostage with her, gave me her red blanket. Both times, I cried. That people would trust me and share these treasures was powerful. In a way, it was like they were urging me to carry on her legacy – both through telling the story and in learning to live a little bit more like her – more love, more courage. Also, Elmi Mohamed, a nurse who worked with her in Wajir, to hear his stories about the Wagalla Massacre…and to see his continued service to his people in Kenya, it was powerful.

What genre would you label STRONGER THAN DEATH? I mean, it is a biography, but really it seems more than that.    

Biography, but also history, science, maybe spiritual? Memoir a bit…the largest term I use is narrative nonfiction, but to non book nerds, that doesn’t communicate a whole lot. Well, to this book nerd, it makes sense. I think that is one of the reasons I liked it so much because it was such a mixture of different genres.

Is there a story or an inspiration for the title?

Titles are so hard for me. We probably spent hours, days even, with list and lists and white boards and spread sheets, tweaking every word. Ultimately, it was the title Plough picked.

Do you mind sharing your favorite quote from Annalena?

She once said, about people doing humanitarian aid, “our coming here only has meaning if we are joyfully willing to be manure.” When I read that, I thought, WHAT?! Manure? That wasn’t what I wanted to be, for sure, in doing humanitarian work. And yet…she was right. To be effective, to truly help, we need to be humble, low, learners, we need to help other people flourish. She wasn’t just saying be like a pile of crap! But manure, at least in composting, also helps people flourish. So be low yourself, so that others can rise up and be great.

So, as I was reading Annalena’s story a few other names came to my mind: Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward. I didn’t think of them as the “Mother Theresa” figure types, but more that these ladies all had high expectations for themselves in living and working, but also for those who wanted to “help” them in the work. I find in them what Angela Duckworth wrote about in her book, GRIT. I see it in them. Any thoughts on this idea?

You know, her family balked at the term Mother Teresa, and I did at first too. It almost can seem cliché. But it also captures a certain way of life and character of being with just two words. And that helps, when talking about a book! She certainly had grit, she could be stubborn and hardheaded, which I think is often what is necessary to also be productive.

Do you think that other women from our generation or younger that will pick up this baton that these women had and carry it out in other parts of the world?                 

I hope women will pick this up, I know some Somali women themselves who are serving in the Horn – Kali for example, one of the girls Annalena took in, is now the headmistress of a deaf school in rural Kenya. I think there is a kind of push-back about race and colonial attitudes and I agree that white people need, myself included, to be wise and sensitive and humble. We have made so many mistakes and need to do better. But I don’t believe that means we, or black and brown people, shouldn’t do service across race and cultural boundaries. I think that is what makes the world beautiful – that we aren’t confined to one culture or one location or one racial community, but that we can learn to love and support and be supported by people different from ourselves.

Okay lighter questions… Do you have another project started or thinking about a new one? Can you share or is it too early for sharing. =)  

I do! I’m under contract for a second book with Plough, manuscript due in April. I can’t say a whole lot about it except that it explores similar themes but from a much more personal perspective. Ooh, can’t wait to hear more about this when you can share more.

Have you come to love the desert, yet? 

Haha! Sometimes. Isn’t that a terrible answer? I do miss Minnesota lakes though.

Thank you so much, Rachel, for your time and answers.

If you would like to learn more about this book, check out this book trailer. You can pre-order (release date is 10/1/19) your copy of STRONGER THAN DEATH at these locations: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indie Bound

Book Review: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON, CHILDREN

After the review be sure to read the author interview and find out how you could win a copy of this book.

Keep Calm and Carry On, Children by Sharon K. Mayhew

Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction

IMG_4157

I’ve added this book on WWII to my book list for a couple of reasons. First, it is about WWII and we should not forget. Second, the author is a TCK. She grew up in England and moved to the US when she was eight. Be sure to read my interview with Sharon at the end of the review.

Keep Calm and Carry On, Children is set in England during WWII. It follows the lives of Joyce and her sister who live in London during the time of air raids, bomb shelters, and death. Their parents make a hard decision to move their children to the far countryside away from danger. This move is what is known as Operation Pied Piper. WWII is taught in many schools around the world, but I believe that this part of history is not well known. As the story unfolds, Joyce and her sister make friends on the train and have quite an adventure of their own in the quiet village of Leek. It is here they learn that black and white is more of a grey when times are hard and the country is at war. War has changed the lives of all – no matter where you live or how old you are. Sharon creates adventure that any reader is bound to keep turning pages to see what becomes of Joyce and her friends.

My Take: War is hard and this time period is something we don’t want other generations to forget. Sharon has brought to life a hard to tell part of history. She created characters who struggle and endure making Keep Calm and Carry On, Children a memorable story that will cause you to want to research more about Operation Pied Piper.

Insights from the author…

Where did the idea for this book come from?

That’s a great question! It all started with the seed. I go to England once a year, or twice if I’m lucky, to visit family. I’ve taken my daughter on several of these trips, so she could connect with her English roots. My grandparents, one of which passed away six years ago, have played a huge role in my life. That kind of sounds funny as I only saw them a couple times a year until about 2008 when they stopped traveling to America. But Grandad (yes, I spell it that way) is now 98 and still has a wealth of wisdom and stories to tell. And I’ve been listening…

So, the initial seed came from them tell stories about days gone by. His family, like so many patriotic families joined the war effort in any way they could. One thing his mum did was take in two evacuees for the entirety of World War II. They didn’t really talk about war time until about 2010, at that point I would sneak back up to my bedroom and write down notes of his and Nanny’s stories. As the years went on, I started taking notes on my Iphone while they were telling me about their youth’s. When they saw how interested I was in the history of the British people during that time period they started taking me to historic places related to the war and I started buying books, fiction and non-fiction, purchasing reprints of wartime documents, and doing independent research on Operation Pied Piper. As a former elementary school teacher, I read THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE every year, but just considered it fiction until the conversations began with my grandparents. I was shocked, amazed and a bit horrified that people sent their children to live with complete strangers in the countryside in the north of England. Those children had to be incredibly brave to persevere through the Blitz, through the uncertainty of their future with strangers and if or when they would reunite with their parents. 

The title of your book is somewhat different, isn’t it? I did some research and found that it is from a British WWII poster. Can you elaborate on that some? 

LOL! It is! KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON  is iconic! But it was true to the British spirit…You’ve heard of having a stiff upper lip, right? I wanted to show that attitude in my title. Thankfully, KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON was never copywrited, so I was able to use it in the title.  I think Black Rose Writing did an excellent job with the cover! They even let me have some input on it. My main requests were to use the KEEP CALM font and to have an English flag in the background. 

You were born in England and moved to the US at the age of 8. You were not much younger than your main character, Joyce. You both moved to different cultures and had to adapt. How did this experience help you understand Joyce better?

This is a really interesting question…I hadn’t thought about how my immigration affected my writing in this book. Some of Joyce’s story is my story. I lived in a rural village in England before I moved to the States. We didn’t have an indoor toilet and we bathed in a big tin tub with water heated from a coal heated stove. I think I must have compared that to what a change it was in America for me. I tried to put myself in Joyce’s shoes for each scene/chapter. I think you are right. I used my emotions for the unknown and uncertainty in my childhood to help create Joyce and move her forward in her journey. Wow! Lightbulb moment!

How else did being a TCK influence you as your wrote this story?

I really wanted to write a book that showed children (or adults) that they could overcome anything, if they just pushed forward…persevered. Facing the unknown is hard. Knowing that others have done it, hopefully, is helpful to readers of any age. 

Where is “home” to you? 

That’s a really hard question! When I get to England I am home, because of my grandad, but when I get back to the States I am home because of my husband and daughter. I’m still holding a British passport. That will change when my grandad passes, so looking deeper…I’m at home in America. I love going to England but there are so many people in such a small land area…and the roads! OMGoodness the roads! They are so narrow!!!

Fun Question….

What is your favorite British dish that you had to learn to make as you live in the US? Or what is the first thing you want to eat when you go back to England?

So I’m definitely not a chef, but there are two things I must have when I’m in England: fish and chips and a scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam and of course a cup of tea.

Thank you for inviting me to share my story. I’m humbled by every person that reads my book and reviews it or reaches out to me. I’m so blessed in so many ways.

And thank you, Sharon, for such a delightful interview. I love hearing from authors about how they created their characters and the background information. I’m so glad that your grandad got to read it.

And thanks to Sharon, you all have an opportunity to win a copy of her debut middle grade novel KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON, CHILDREN. For those of you living out of the United States, you will have a chance to win an e-book and a signed bookmark. For those within the 50 states, you have the chance to win a signed copy of the physical book.

I’m keeping it simple…simply comment about why you would like to have this book or a question you have for Sharon. I’ll enter all the names into an online random name picker to choose who wins. The name will be drawn on September 26th at 9pm Eastern Time Zone.