With Middle Grade Author, Sandy Brehl
Friday, December 15, 2017
The ABC song is one of the first fun songs we teach our children to sing. Why? Because the alphabet is the backbone for learning to read and write. For some people, reading and writing is not fun at all.
My new series, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD offers a new way to have fun with the alphabet. Every week, a children’s author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will share their ‘top of the head’ answers to the ABC category list they were given, A to Z. Following their answers, I ask a few questions to gain a little insight into their world.
Feel free to play along, maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy!
Today, children’s fiction author of the middle grade historical trilogy about the first year of German occupation of Norway in WWII as seen through the eyes of a young girl, is Sandy Brehl!!!
Below is Sandy’s category list from A – Z and her answers off the top of her head.
[Message From Sandy: An advance warning: a knowledgeable professional once said I was a wildly divergent thinker, and I interpreted that as having too many favorites in life…]
APPLIANCE: heavy duty mixer
BAND INSTRUMENT: (hard to march with a piano- I was drill team!)
DAY OF WEEK: Thursday
EVERY CHILD: is gifted, challenged, and could be yours. Treat them all that way.
FUNNY WORD: strumpet
GAME: Jeopardy, especially kid-made versions
HISTORICAL FIGURE: Martin Luther King, Jr.
JAMMING SONG: Most 60’s music
KNOW HOW TO: feed an injured hummingbird
LAUGH (WHAT MAKES YOU): Kids and word play
MOST LIKELY TO: be ambivalent (I tend toward “yes, but”)
NON-FICTION BOOK: Adult/ EVICTED: POVERTY AND PROFIT IN THE AMERICAN CITY; Kids/ FLOODWATERS AND FLAMES: THE 1913 DISASTER IN DAYTON, OHIO
OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: Gardening
PLAY: Soccer with my dog
‘Q’ WORD: Quisling
RHYMING WORDS: cerise and chemise
SYNONYM FOR GREAT: bodacious
UNUSUAL ANIMAL: platypus
WISH: Superpower: ability to control time
X WORD: Xerox
YELLOW (SOMETHING): sundrops (common name for evening primrose)
ZANIEST THING YOU’VE DONE: zero- I don’t do zany well (see M above)
ME: Sandy, you have bodacious timing with your word choices. Meaning, while reading your category followed by each answer, the process that went through your mind as you answered, is shown (of course your advance warning played a part). Speaking of time, your wish for a superpower is fantastic! What would be your first order of operation if you could control time and why?
SB: My students loved exploring potential “superpowers” and this was always my choice. It was especially true as education became so time-and-testing accountable. I wanted to “stop the clock” so we could pursue creative and curious questions, but then resume the “required” work with time reset for us all. I especially would have used the power to provide more recess time, more often. Play is a superpower in itself.
Currently, my time superpower would relate to writing. It would work like this: when doing something engaging, I could continue until choosing to stop, then reset time back to the point I need it to be. I have no doubt that writing, researching, and anything I enjoy would be even more satisfying and fun if I didn‘t have a nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me of other things I should be doing or when I’ll have to stop.
Alternately, when anything miserable or stressful is happening, I’d fast-forward the experience. I’m not so concerned with eliminating negatives in life, but I’d love to be able to “get through” hard times, especially for those I love, as quickly as possible and move on with life.
At the time I’m writing these answers, I’d launch my annual holiday cookie-baking project and then reset time to the present, with everything baked, packed, and ready to deliver! (See pix)
ME: Those cookies look delicious. I think you need Hermione Granger’s time turner!
I have to ask, what was your drill team like? Was it military, high school, college? And, true, carrying a piano while marching would be difficult so I am trying to figure out if you played the piano at the end of the field, for the drill team. Can you give us some insight?
SB: It was a precision-formations team, and our coach was a former marine drill sergeant. I participated three years in high school and one year at Marquette when they were trying to get a unit started.
ME: Gotcha! And now, Marquette’s drill team is still going strong.
Do you have a photo of you and your dog playing soccer? Does your dog use his nose to push the soccer ball to you or his paws?
SB: My twelve year old Sheltie has been slowed by arthritis, but he still wants to play several times each day. He uses paws, body blocking and nose. He’s got great moves, even now. He’s best in goalie position, guarding that ball for all he’s worth, which doesn’t require as much running.
ME: He is adorable! Bless his heart for not giving into age. We can learn a lot from him. 😊 I bet he loves being by your gardens as well! It’s apparent you enjoy gardening. Sundrops are beautiful! And hummingbirds love to visit them in wee hours of morning before the flowers close for the day. Was it near the sundrops that you found an injured hummingbird that you nursed back to health? Please tell us about that experience.
SB: Good hypothesis, Traci, but the two don’t really connect. Sundrops are great at spreading, so I have expanses of them in various parts of the yard. Their resilience and indomitable cheeriness feels like I’m surrounded by happy face emojis when they are in season.
The hummingbird story comes from the years (long ago) when I was state and federally licensed to rescue and rehabilitate Wisconsin and migratory birds and mammals.
I got a call about an injured hummingbird and hurried to retrieve it, (not very optimistic). It was crouched on the sidewalk during a summer storm, not even able to stand. That meant it was likely a back or brain injury, although it could have been the result of pesticide poisoning. ☹
Recovery for hummers is challenging, requiring hand-feeding, special feather care, bathing, and perching arrangements, with long periods of exercise. Here in the Midwest, rehabbers are less likely to work with hummers, although California and SW states encounter hummers in danger much more often than we do here. [This photo of a juvenile female Anna’s hummer is similar to how Sandy handled the ruby-throated hummingbird she found and rehabbed. Photo credit: https://www.victoriaadvocate.com/news/2011/aug/04/hg_paul_mary_meredith_080511_147536/%5D
The happy ending to my summer-long story is that Hummer eventually regained full strength and health, rehabilitating throughout August in a large outdoor enclosure. After releasing to the wild, he continued to feed in my yard with other hummers for a few weeks before they gradually migrated in September.
Anyone who is intrigued by this little anecdote should read FASTEST THINGS ON WINGS: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood, by Terry Manear. I reviewed it on Goodreads, here:
I could have listed it as a favorite nonfiction in the alphabet above.
ME: Wow! I didn’t know you were a wildlife rescuer and rehabilitator. I am in awe of you. And yes, the book, you mention is fantastic! Thank you for recommending it to me. Hummingbirds are my favorites.
Going from sweet little beings to naughty ones. You wrote Goatman as your villain answer. Goatman was the main villain in your trilogy. What can you tell us about him?
SB: Goatman was a necessary evil, actually.
The overwhelming enemy in my trilogy is the threat to Mari and her family, village, and country, a threat posed by Hitler and World War II. But in a great story the antagonist needs to be more personal, more immediate, and more able to be directly confronted than a broad concept can provide.
In Odin’s Promise, Mari is threatened by the sudden invasion of her previously safe homeland. In that first year, when she is only eleven, she faces the greatest danger from a pair of patrolling soldiers, nicknamed The Rat and Scarecrow. In that book and onward I was intentional about portraying soldiers as individuals, as having separate identities and motivations. Part of Mari’s journey in that first book is her growing awareness of that truth. She learned to guard her words, her trust, and her actions, even among presumed friends.
In the second book, Bjorn’s Gift, Mari interacts with one of those lifelong friends on a daily basis, one who not only poses a danger to her but also becomes a puzzle to be solved.
In the final book, Mari’s Hope, three long years of war remain, much of it an endurance test with increasing hardships. My challenge in that book was to find ways to turn a long slog into a dramatic story, one with an immediate threat to Mari and her village. One with an personal and ever-present antagonist.
That is the German soldier, Goatman.
Among the many ways locals resisted the Germans and their propaganda campaign of friendship was to mock the occupiers behind their backs, including assigning derogatory nicknames. Even so, I was determined to portray this necessary threat as an individual. He is despicable, but is also flawed. It’s giving nothing away to say that he is an alcoholic, which accounts for many of his actions. I wanted to be sure that young readers could sort out the all-encompassing evil of German policies and actions from the additional threats of an individual soldier living right next door to Mari.
ME: Mari is a wonderful role model. I fell right into the trilogy from the start of Odin’s Promise and…I learned a lot! I also learn quite a bit from the game show JEOPARDY which is your game answer. If you were asked to be on the game show, JEOPARDY and could choose between the adult version or kids version, which would you choose? For me, it would be the kids’ version, which I would still stink at.
SB: Oh, easy-peasy. The kids’ version, of course. As I watch the televised version I’m often astounded at how many of the questions could be answered by my elementary students. I maintained an open door policy in my classrooms, inviting volunteers and encouraging special support staff to work in the room with us rather than remove individuals to a hallway. I couldn’t begin to count how often the adults would comment on learning things they never knew before.
Kids loved hearing that, and also quizzing the adults! It was fun to see how well kids eventually developed those descriptive statements, ones that included critical information and could have only one correct response- in the form of a question, of course..
That’s not as easy as you might think.
ME: That format does not sound easy to me at all. It is learned skill. Your students are lucky to have a teacher like you!
The 60’s were a turbulent time in our history. Since you wrote Mari’s trilogy, are you by chance working on more historical fiction? And, just for fun, if you were to write a synopsis using answers from your category sheet, what would the story be about?
SB: I have story ideas from the 60’s, and from other earlier eras. Some come from personal experience, from stories I hear, or from great books I read. For those interested in stories set in the sixties, I recommend Gayle Rosengren’s COLD WAR ON MAPLEWOOD STREET (Cuban Missile Crisis).
I didn’t intend to write more about Norway. And yet… I have several works in progress with that setting, including picture books and a novel in verse.
I didn’t set out to write historical novels, but I did want to share stories (and some amazing research) about the courageous people in a corner of Norway. The personal stories I heard while there were completely surprising to me. Even so, I expected to tell those stories in that debut book, ODIN’S PROMISE, which involves only the first year of the German occupation.
But readers insisted on a sequel. That led to more research, to collecting more anecdotes, and eventually I wrote a two-part sequel. The second book involves the next eighteen months in which the German claim of protective friendship falls away, replaced by threats and severe new laws. It was during that time period when all but a few lucky escapees of the small Jewish population in Norway were deported to the concentration camps in Germany, from which few returned.
Using that background and what I’ve indicated earlier, here’s the best I can do for an ABC synopsis of Mari’s Hope: (only 8 words from the list)
In the final years of World War II, Mari walks a treacherous line as a doctor’s helper and participant in local resistance activities, putting her in heavy-duty jeopardy. She travels beyond the district borders, meets a young girl in need of friendship and advice, and survives a disaster in Bergen, Instead of playing soccer or romping with her dog, Mari must face a friend’s betrayal as well as the snooping and threats of German soldier, Goatman. Even when her hopes waver, Mari has no ambivalence about standing up for her family and for Norway.
ME: That is an excellent synopsis Sandy! I actually find that I have learned more from reading historical fiction than I do reading straight up non-fiction history. You still have to base your fictional stories on fact to lend credibility to the story. And you have a wonderful knack for it.
Thank you, Sandy, for being a contestant today!
Readers, thank you for stopping by! You can learn more about Sandy and her books here:
And you can follow her on social media at:
Have a fantastic weekend everyone! Cheers to making it count. 🙂