Writ­ing for open minds Rose­mary Zibart

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - ROSE­MARY ZIBART

Au­thor Rose­mary Zibart has lived in Santa Fe for more than 25 years, but she grew up i n Nashville, Ten­nessee, as part of a small Jewish com­mu­nity. Her father’s fam­ily had lived in the city for gen­er­a­tions, and when Zibart was a child, her par­ents owned a book­store. Nat­u­rally, she l oved books, i n par­tic­u­lar C. S. Lewis’ Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia, and Laura In­galls Wilder’s Lit­tle

House on the Prairie se­ries. But Zibart wasn’t al­ways sure she was go­ing to be an au­thor. She re­called see­ing writ­ers sit­ting in her fam­ily’s book­store with piles of their un­sold books and thought that it looked rather lonely.

When Zibart did de­cide to be­come a writer, she wanted to write books for young peo­ple, in part for their “open minds and hearts.” (She was also a jour­nal­ist and writes plays for adults.) Her pic­ture book I Have a Grandma Who … chal­lenges as­sump­tions about 21st- cen­tury grand­moth­ers; il­lus­tra­tor Valori Her­zlich’s draw­ings fea­ture grand­moth­ers on mo­tor­cy­cles and swim­ming with dol­phins. Zibart’s

Far and Away se­ries, writ­ten for middle-grade read­ers, fo­cuses on chil­dren dis­placed by World War II. The first two books in the se­ries, True Brit and Forced Jour­ney: The Saga of Werner Ber­linger, fol­low a Bri­tish girl sent to New Mex­ico for the du­ra­tion of the war and a twelve-year-old Ger­man Jew sent to New York City, re­spec­tively.

Pasatiempo spoke to Zibart about writ­ing for kids and what World War II lit­er­a­ture means to young read­ers.

Pasatiempo: Tell me about the gen­e­sis for the Far and Away se­ries. World War II lit­er­a­ture is a sat­u­rated mar­ket, both for chil­dren and adults. What did you want to bring to the con­ver­sa­tion that was lack­ing?

Rose­mary Zibart: True Brit came about when I read in The New Mex­i­can’s “50 Years Ago To­day” col­umn about four English girls who ar­rived in Santa Fe dur­ing the war. I thought, Oh my gosh, what must that ex­pe­ri­ence have been like, to come from rainy, war-torn Lon­don to bright, sunny, bo­hemian Santa Fe? I was in­ter­ested in the fish-out-of-wa­ter el­e­ment. I con­sid­ered do­ing a non­fic­tion book about it, be­cause I once wrote an ar­ti­cle for the In­dian Mar­ket mag­a­zine about pub­lic health nurses who trav­eled through­out the South­west go­ing to dif­fer­ent pueb­los, and they were my he­roes, go­ing around the county in their Model T’s. And in the case of the Werner Ber­linger, I think I was ad­dress­ing a wound t hat many peo­ple felt. Grow­ing up, I didn’t have a di­rect con­nec­tion to the Holo­caust, but I re­mem­ber learn­ing about it in the ’ 50s, and it be­ing an in­cred­i­ble shock: But for the grace of God, that would have been me.

Pasa: Who’s t he ideal reader for th­ese books, and what do you hope a reader takes away from them?

Zibart: They’ve been r e ad by peo­ple of all ages, in­clud­ing older peo­ple who’ve been t hrough t he war, but t hey’re writ­ten for tento four­teen- year- olds. True Brit i s about t he t rans­for­ma­tion of a young woman f rom be­ing help­less to learn­ing to pitch in and be a use­ful hu­man be­ing. She meets Jewish or­phans on t he boat, t he black porter on t he t r ai n, and His­panic and Na­tive Amer­i­can peo­ple in New Mex­ico. Each time she has to widen her world.

Pasa: What’s dif­fer­ent about writ­ing for kids ver­sus writ­ing for adults?

Zibart: You’re writ­ing much more sim­ply. For ex­am­ple, in the Far and

Away books, I had to bal­ance a lot of fairly com­pli­cated ideas about good and evil in the world. You have to put it on a con­crete, gras­pable level for a younger mind and a younger spirit.

Pasa: Read­ing Forced Jour­ney and True Brit, what came to mind were con­tem­po­rary refugee crises where chil­dren are very vis­i­ble, par­tic­u­larly Syr­ian refugees in Europe, or Mex­i­can and Cen­tral Amer­i­can chil­dren com­ing to the U.S. Do you think about th­ese con­tem­po­rary res­o­nances?

Zibart: It’s im­pos­si­ble not to com­pare it to chil­dren nowa­days, leav­ing a sit­u­a­tion where they’re go­ing to be killed. And it seems like the xeno­pho­bia in this coun­try is as bad or worse than be­fore World ar II. In 1939, leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing 10,000 Jewish chil­dren to en­ter the U. S. was turned down by Congress, but 1,400 squeaked in past a hos­tile U. S. State Depart­ment. Only a year ago, 70,000 Latin Amer­i­can chil­dren were de­nied en­trance [to the U.S.] or turned back. In both cases fear and prej­u­dice ruled. I be­lieve one of the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of writ­ing for young peo­ple is to gen­er­ate eth­nic and racial tol­er­ance. If you can achieve that at a young age, it can last a life­time.

Pasa: Are there more books planned for the Far and Away se­ries?

Zibart: A se­quel to True Brit. It’s about the Ja­panese in­tern­ment camp that was here in Santa Fe. I also learned about the New Mex­ico boys who went to the Philip­pines and fought in Bataan. It’s still very ten­der for many peo­ple here.

— Adele Oliveira

“Grow­ing up, I didn’t have a di­rect con­nec­tion to the Holo­caust, but I re­mem­ber learn­ing about it in the ‘50s, and it be­ing an in­cred­i­ble shock: But for the grace of God, that would have been me.”

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