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Historical Fiction: Getting the Details Right, a guest post by author Kip Wilson

Even though historical fiction isn’t nonfiction by any stretch, it’s still based on history and set in a historical time period, so the facts behind the story still very much matter when it comes to the details. Like most other historical fiction authors, I absolutely agonize over these details. Getting something wrong is definitely near the top of my (long) list of worries.

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin (coming March 29, 2022) is about orphaned 18-year-old Hilde who finds family, love, and her voice when she stumbles into a queer club, Café Lila, in Berlin in 1932. It’s historical fiction like my debut, White Rose, but unlike that novel, the main characters in this one are fictional. Still, I wanted the historical backdrop and the plot, as well as the imagined characters themselves, to be as authentic as possible for the story to come across as an accurate representation of what people like Hilde would have experienced in this time and place.

As part of my process, I like to focus on facts that can contribute to authenticity in four areas: setting, character, plot, and voice.

Setting

Investigating the details that will bring a historical setting to life is one of my favorite pieces of the research process. This is of course harder the farther back in history a story is set, but there’s definitely a wealth of information available for many 20th century settings.

Research into a historical setting typically includes lots of reading, including general nonfiction about the time and place, fiction and poetry from the era, historical maps and guidebooks, and newspapers and magazines. Beyond reading, photographs and films from the era are often even more effective in showing what a particular setting looked like at the time, and not only the streets, buildings, and modes of transportation, but the people, the fashions, and their habits at work and at play.

Finally, actually visiting the setting in the present day can be a great way to get a sense of the place, even if—as is the case in Berlin—so much of the city has changed. For me, walking the streets in the Schöneberg neighborhood where The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin is set really brought the setting to life for me.

Character

With White Rose, I had a wealth of information available because my protagonist, Sophie Scholl, was a real person. She left behind letters and diaries and plenty of eyewitnesses who knew her and granted interviews over the years.

My main characters in The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin are fictional, so I found studying memoirs and essays by queer people who lived in Berlin at the time a very helpful way to understand the challenges—and joys—that people like my own queer characters would experience.

Plot

The plot of a historical novel is very much informed by the events of its time period, so having a firm grasp on those events is crucial. 1932 was the last full year of the Weimar Republic era before the Nazis came to power—well before the beginning of World War II. Still it wasn’t a quiet time at all. Many important historical events are scattered through the eight months when the story takes place.

Again, general nonfiction books and trusted history websites were helpful in helping me pinpoint important events, including multiple national elections held in Germany during 1932. But probably the most helpful sources of all for nailing down the story’s plot were periodicals. Some of these sources are heavy on the photograph side, like the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, which were a great way for me to “see” certain events. Others presented the more left-wing, liberal take on the events my main characters agree with, like the Vossische Zeitung.

But there were certainly other opinions at the time, and even if my protagonist doesn’t agree with them, she notices them in campaign posters and headlines from right-wing, nationalist sources like the Nazi party newspaper, Völkischer Beobachter. Even in 1932 before the Nazis came to power, their rhetoric was already frightening and ominous. But because my characters of course don’t have the hindsight that we do today, their matter-of-fact observations of happenings hopefully provide some insight about why no one was able to stop the Nazi rise to power at the time.

Voice

Another important way to capture a historical era is through my protagonist’s voice. Because I write in verse, every word matters, so this process is particularly enjoyable to me. From the first draft, I try to use words and a way of speaking that correspond to my protagonist’s background and her time— and perhaps even more, her heart. But even after my own revisions, good questions still come up in edits and copyedits. The last thing a historical author wants is to include anachronisms or to make characters seem too modern for their times.

In the end, facts really do matter when it comes to historical fiction, so it’s important to make an effort to get the details right. The areas I outline above can certainly add up to help give the story a sense of authenticity, so I try to layer in as much as I can. And while mistakes can always still make their way into a work of historical fiction (as hard as I try to avoid them!), I consider attending to the details and respecting the facts of the past the least I can do.

Bio

Kip Wilson is the author of White Rose (2019, Versify), a critically-acclaimed YA novel-in-verse about anti-Nazi political activist Sophie Scholl. Kip holds a Ph.D. in German Literature and was the Poetry Editor at Young Adult Review Network (YARN) for five years before joining Voyage as an Associate Editor in 2020. Her next YA novel-in-verse, The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin, is forthcoming from Versify in March 2022.

Website: http://www.kipwilsonwrites.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kiperoo Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kipwilsonwrites/

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin

After her eighteenth birthday, Hilde, a former orphan in 1930s Berlin, goes out into the world to discover her place in it. But finding a job is hard, at least until she stumbles into Café Lila, a vibrant cabaret full of expressive customers—and Rosa, the club’s waitress and performer. As the café and all who work there embrace Hilde, and she embraces them in turn, she discovers her voice and her own blossoming feelings for Rosa.

But Berlin is in turmoil. Between the elections, protests in the streets, and the beginning seeds of unrest in Café Lila itself, Hilde will have to decide what’s best for her future . . . and what it means to love a place on the cusp of war.

Sunday Reflections: That Time I Tried to Talk About Being an Ally and the Book That Can Help Us All Have Those Conversations

Last summer, during the height of Black Lives Matter, I took 3 masked 12 year olds to the grocery store. All of us are white. As we were walking in, a Black man was walking out.

“Let’s raise our fists and yell Black Lives Matter,” one of them said.

And that started one of the most important conversations I have had in a long time with these girls.

I told them no, you shouldn’t do that and when they asked me why, I explained to them that this man was a stranger and he did not know owe us his time or attention. I told them that they were a group of giggling 12-year-old girls and he would not know if they were being sincere or mocking him and the movement. I told them that it would be wrong from them to assume that just because this man was Black that he agreed with Black Lives Matter or the current protests that were happening. I told them that they were not being helpful and would be centering themselves in this moment and possibly causing problems for this man, who as far as we know was just a man trying to go grab a gallon of milk or whatever.

And then they started talking about the Black Lives Matter events happening on social media. They talked about turning their avatars into black squares and when of them mentioned the black square with a raised fist one of the girls corrected the others and said, no you can’t use that one, it’s not for us. And I stood back and watched them all process and talk about what they were seeing and hearing on social media, jumping in every once and a while to correct some factual errors or add nuance along the way.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were having a conversation about being an ally and – there’s a book for that.

Allies is a nonfiction book that presents a variety of individual essays that talk about what it means to be an ally. It starts from the premise that there are no perfects allies and then asks you to sit and think about what it means to be one. From the very first introduction, you just get profound thoughts on top of more profound thoughts to think about. And it starts by asking us as allies to de-center ourselves, to listen, and to let the voices of those who we claim to be allies for to speak and amplify them whenever possible.

As a white woman raising white teenage daughters, the idea of raising allies is very important to me. We are a family of deep, abiding faith and we believe that it is important to love our neighbors as ourselves and to make the world a more just place in whatever ways we can. I also know that we benefit from our white privilege and, like those around us, we struggle with our own internalized misogyny and racism and all the other isms that we are indoctrinated with from birth in both overt and covert ways. Learning how to be a good human, a good Christian, and a good ally are life long processes. It’s a constant state of undoing, relearning, trying, failing, and then trying again.

I appreciated this book. It was a challenging read. It is a thoughtful read. It is an encouraging read. I’m getting each of those girls that walked with me through the grocery store that day their own copies. I know that they, like a lot of teens in today’s generation, are very much wanting to change the world for good. But even people with the best of intentions make huge mistakes along the way. Allies won’t make it so they become the most perfect allies, but it will help them to become more thoughtful and better ones on their journey.

Publisher’s Book Description:

This book is for everyone. Because we can all be allies.

As an ally, you use your power—no matter how big or small—to support others. You learn, and try, and mess up, and try harder. In this collection of true stories, 17 critically acclaimed and bestselling YA authors get real about being an ally, needing an ally, and showing up for friends and strangers. 

From raw stories of racism and invisible disability to powerful moments of passing the mic, these authors share their truths. They invite you to think about your own experiences and choices and how to be a better ally.

There are no easy answers, but this book helps you ask better questions. Self-reflection prompts, resources, journaling ideas, and further reading suggestions help you find out what you can do. Because we’re all in this together. And we all need allies. (From Penguin Randomhouse)

Allies comes out on Tuesday, September 14th and I highly recommend it for everyone. It’s a thoughtful, challenging, and inspiring read for any of us who want to try and do our better to make a world a better and more just world but don’t know how to start. It starts with listening, and these authors have some powerful thoughts to share.

#FactsMatter: Nonfiction Graphic Novel Series for Tweens and Teens

So this year we are trying to talk more about nonfiction. So how about some nonfiction in graphic novel form? There are a lot of great nonfiction graphic novel series out there, including some great biographies (They Called Us Enemy by George Takei and Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka), a lot at Civil Rights (The March series by John Lewis), and even a look at the events of 9/11. Today, though, I want to share some ongoing nonfiction graphic novel series with you. Sometimes I just like series because I like to have items that are connected under the same heading and branding.

Big Ideas That Changed the World

The Big Ideas That Changed the World series by Abrams takes a look at – well – big ideas that changed the world. There are currently 3 books and they look at vaccines, computers and the rocket to the moon. I hope they add more titles to the series.

History Comics

There are more than 3 books in the History Comics series by Macmillan and they cover some pretty interesting topics, including the Challenger disaster and the mystery of the Roanoke Colony. For people who maybe don’t love history – and by people, I might mean me – it can be a great way to dive into topics you want to learn more about but don’t want to read through long, heavy tomes.

Science Comics

Look, more science! This series is also by Macmillan. There are around 25 titles in this series and they cover a good variety of topics, including the digestive system, coral reefs, and plagues. Again, it’s a great introduction to topics with a fun, stylistic approach.

Maker Comics

What do you know, it’s another nonfiction graphic novel series by Macmillan. This series covers great topics with a very how to approach and it’s great for the maker movement. From cooking to gardening to understanding the basics of the scientific method, you’ll find something for everyone in one of these 9 titles. This is another series I hope continues for a long time.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales

Back to history for this series, which is once again by Abrams. This covers a wide variety of topics and blends fun with informative. I love this it covers topics like the Donner party and spies. And for your Hamilton fans, there is one on Lafeyette.

Graphic novels are wicked popular and a great for a wide variety of people (they’re not just for kids!) And it’s great to see that more and more graphic novels are tackling nonfiction, which is also very popular (and not just for kids!) Facts are fun, and we want to raise up a generation of informed and information seeking readers, so I’m so glad that these series exist.

For more of our #FactsMatter posts, check out the archvies

#FactsMatter Primer: The What, Who, and Why of Middle Grade and Teen Nonfiction

The overarching theme for 2021 here at TLT is #FactsMatter. Our goal is to take a deep dive into middle grade and teen/young adult nonfiction. We’ve already had a lot of great posts and will continue this deep dive throughout the year. Today I am taking you through a little bit of a walk through of what that journey has looked like for me personally as a public librarian. Here’s a little primer about the what, who and why of middle grade and teen nonfiction and why it matters.

Did You Know That Nonfiction Can Be Broken Down into Various Types of Nonfiction?

When I began my quest to learn more about nonfiction, I recently stumbled upon the realization that nonfiction is generally divided into 5 types of nonfiction. I was definitely aware of some of it; for example, I am very aware of narrative nonfiction. But the overall discussion was fascinating to me as I took a deep dive into the depths of nonfiction. A great resource when seeking to learn more about nonfiction can be found in educator Melissa Stewart. She has an overview of the 5 Types of Nonfiction here: https://www.melissa-stewart.com/img2018/pdfs/5_Kinds_of_Nonfiction/2_5KNF_an_Update.pdf. I recommend poking around her website to learn more about particularly middle grade nonfiction. It’s a great resource and just like with fiction reader’s advisory, knowing what kinds of nonfiction are out there and how they connect with readers can help you connect readers to the nonfiction in your collection.

Who Gets to Write Nonfiction?

This year as we are focusing more on talking about and elevating nonfiction as part of our #FactsMatter project, I was interested in this article in Horn Book about the challenges the BIPOC writers face. More Than a Footnote by Carole Boston Weatherford talks specifically about the challenges that nonfiction authors of color face when trying to break into the nonfiction book market for kids. In addition to just being an all around good discussion, I also learned a bit about some more titles and authors to seek out. You can read that article here: https://www.hbook.com/?detailStory=more-than-a-footnote-challenges-for-bipoc-nonfiction-authors. As we talk about nonfiction, I think it is also important for us to explore who is writing the nonfiction that we share.

Promoting diverse authors is always important in matters of representation but also, there is something to be said about authority and authenticity when it comes to nonfiction as well as fiction. I know that for me, as a woman, I appreciate reading nonfiction about women’s history more when it comes from an author who understands the emotional connection and has more first hand experience about what it means to be a woman in this world than when a man writes about the same topic. That first hand knowledge and experience can make all of the difference in how facts and data are applied to real life experiences. Facts matter, research matters, but so does having the ability to put those facts into a real world context.

How Do We Fight Misinformation?

The last few years have really highlighted the importance of quality nonfiction. Misinformation and outright conspiracy theories have played a huge and important role in everything from local politics to the recent insurrection at the nation’s capitol. Now that same misinformation is being used across the country in support of vast legislation that has the potential to dramatically change the landscape of our voting rights. The Atlantic has an article on what libraries can – and can’t – do to fight the QAnon conspiracy phenomenon. You can check that out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2021/02/how-librarians-can-fight-qanon/618047/.

Here are some more articles on libraries trying to fight disinformation:

https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/42517488/Why%20Librarians%20Cant%20Fight%20Fake%20News.pdf?sequence=1

I think the idea of how, exactly, librarians can help fight misinformation in the 21st century is of particular interest, and importance, and is part of the reason why we set out here at TLT to embark on this project. And though I don’t think that information literacy alone will save us, I think it’s always a good goal. Next time, I will highlight some organizations that have the specific goal of addressing information literacy and misinformation.

#FactsMatter: The 2021 Project Focusing on Nonfiction and Information Literacy

At TLT, we have often focused on middle grade and young adult fiction when we talk about books. But if there is anything that the last year of our lives have shown us, it’s that we have done our world a disservice. We have done our youth a disservice. Each year Teen Librarian Toolbox announces a yearly project, an area of focus to guide us. This year we will be focusing on juvenile and teen nonfiction and information literacy. This doesn’t mean we won’t continue to talk about, read, and review fiction, it just means that we will be working hard to highlight nonfiction titles as well.

And we could use your help, as always, with our yearly project.

If you are an author, a teacher, a librarian or a publisher, please contact us to write a guest post, talk about your book, or share what you are doing in the classroom or in your libraries to help your youth become informed consumers of information. Share your favorite resources, tools, etc. If you have a topic that fits and want a space to share it, we are here for you.

If you would like to participate by writing a post, please fill out this Google Form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe7-unzEqgqmOZdwKa_0hZ5NOa_Q1gFlzGpkmnJvsDqfdY90w/viewform?usp=sf_link

Keep checking back here as we will try and update this post periodically with links to all of the posts after 2021 kicks off, so that all the posts are in one place.