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Talking with author Maryann Macdonald, the USBBY program speaker at ALA Midwinter January 21, 2014

Posted by Wendy Stephens in ALA Midwinter Meeting, Conferences.
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Maryann Macdonald, author of the World War II-era novel-in-verse and 2014 Bluebonnet nominee Odette’s Secrets, will speak at USBBY’s program at the 2014 Midwinter Meeting. The event will be held Friday, January 24th at 8:00 p.m. in the Howe Room at Loew’s Hotel.

The evening will also feature the announcement of USBBY’s 2014 Outstanding International Book (OIB) List. As a national section of IBBY, USBBY was founded to promote international understanding and good will through books for children and adolescents.
I recently caught up with Macdonald to learn more about her experiences writing Odette’s Secrets:

WS: How did you hear about Myers’ story? Why did you choose to adapt it for younger readers?

MM: I found Doors to Madame Marie, a memoir written by Odette Meyers at the American Library in Paris. I had been interested for some time in the story of the 84% of French Jewish children who survived WWII by hiding in plain sight. I knew they had had to reinvent themselves as Christian children and then come to terms with their real identities after the war. What had the personal cost been, I wondered? Odette Meyers book was the story of one child that seemed to answer this question, perhaps for many.

WS: Why did you choose the novel-in-verse format?

MM: My first attempt at writing Odette’s story was in third person prose…it seemed too dry. I knew Odette had loved reading poetry and thought its beauty had helped her survive her wartime experiences. Later, she wrote poetry of her own. So when I tried channeling Odette’s childhood voice, it came out as that of a poet-to-be, in blank verse.

WS: What were the challenges in transforming a nonfiction account into a fictional one?

MM: The biggest challenge for me was in trying to stick absolutely to what I knew to be true of Odette’s experience. Although I invented her voice, I did not invent the events that took place in her life during the war, nor her reactions to them. I wanted everything in the book to be as accurate as possible, since the story is really hers, not mine.

WS: Odette’s Secrets can be used with younger readers than many Holocaust accounts and novels. How did you balance the realities of the period and setting with the sensibilities of younger readers?

MM: Odette, while she suffered greatly, was one of the luckiest of the child survivors of the holocaust. She was an only child, and both of her parents survived. None of them came into direct contact with the death camps. So her story is an easier one to read than many.

WS: What is your experience with France, the setting of the book?

MM: I have lived in Paris several times, and spend part of every summer in France. I have always been disturbed by France’s official role during WWII. Certainly on the official level, the French were collaborators. But on the personal level, many resisted, including all the people who sheltered Jewish children. Few people realize that a greater percentage of Jews survived in France than in any other European country.

WS: Is there anything else readers should know?

MM: I have been surprised and pleased by the number of enthusiastic adult readers who have enjoyed Odette’s Secrets. Odette’s sister Anne-Marie, born after the war, is among them.

This year’s USBBY event is jointly sponsored by ALA’s three youth services divisions, AASL, ALSC, and YALSA. Bloomsbury Children’s Books will be graciously hosting a reception to follow.

Wendy Stephens serves as the ALA/AASL Representative on the USBBY Board of Directors.


1. Karen Ruelle - January 21, 2014

This is a beautiful book and I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend the talk.

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