7 Questions with Susan Azim Boyer

Susan is the author of Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win out November 2022.

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

If I could travel back in time, I’d visit Tehran, Iran in the early 1920s, when my grandmother, Navob was a princess in the Qajar Dynasty, which ruled the Persian Empire from 1742 – to 1925. To be clear, she was not Princess Kate with a tiara or anything. Her father, Ahmad Shah Qajar, had many wives and children, but she did reside on the grounds of the Golestan Palace with him.

2. Your book is set during the fall of 1979. What fascinates you most about this time period?

My book is set in the year the Iran Hostage Crisis exploded across the nightly news and made Iran — which had once signed a Treaty of Friendship with the United States in the late 1860s — and Iranians into pariahs. After the country’s revolution, during which the last king (or “shah”) was overthrown by a religious leader (called the “ayatollah”), dissident students seized the United States embassy in Tehran and took all the American employees hostage. Their rationale: the U.S. had accepted the despised Reza Shah Pahlavi for cancer treatment. Following a failed rescue attempt in 1979, all the hostages were finally released in 1981.

In fact, the 2012 movie Argo was about the rescue of several hostages holed up in the Canadian embassy! The movie was based on an article in Wired magazine entitled, “The Great Escape: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran.”

I chose this time period so that my lead character, Jasmine Zumideh, would have to reckon with her heritage in a way she never has before when her opponent for senior class president stirs up anti-Iranian hysteria at school following the crisis.

3. What elements of this time period do we still see today?

Anti-Middle Eastern and Iranian sentiments are still with us, as well as the 24-hour news cycle, which was ushered in by Nightline, a nightly newscast that delivered daily, breathless updates on the hostage crisis; it stayed on the air for twenty years.

Plus, bell-bottom jeans, hoop earrings, and platform shoes.

4. What kind of insights do you think teens from this time period have?

Teens of the late 70s/early 80s did not have the helicopter parents of today. They had to figure most things out for themselves, which did foster a certain amount of independence and self-discovery. There was no social media, so they didn’t see highly curated online personas to which they might have felt they could never measure up. And because they weren’t online, they had to connect more IRL — or spend hours talking on the phone…like, a landline with a cord and everything!

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

There were a string of kooky, 1970 fad diets I omitted because they might send the wrong message to young readers, but they were hilariously ridiculous: The Stewardess Diet, which consists of a hard-boiled egg and a piece of Melba toast, plus all the coffee, tea or Sanka you can stomach; or the Grapefruit Diet in which a half a grapefruit is eaten with every meal to burn away unwanted fat (it doesn’t).

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

I loved The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed, about a black student at an elite, white high school during the 1993 Los Angeles uprising; The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, about a young women’s attempt to survive a loveless arranged marriage in the late 17th century Netherland’s; I, Claudius by Robert Graves is a classic, and I didn’t read it but adored the Wolf Hall limited series. And a very funny Netflix series with a lightly satirical tone and political backdrop similar to Jasmine Zumideh (but set in Ireland during the Irish “troubles”) is Derry Girls.

7. What are you working on right now?

Sadly, I’m not working on another book of historical fiction but a YA contemporary about a brother and sister who have never met, joining together to find the father they never knew — coming Fall 2023 from Wednesday Books.

Visit Susan’s website, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok

7 Questions with Alda P. Dobbs

Visit Alda’s website, Instagram

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

I would love to go to Mexico City or New York City during the late 1930’s/early 1940’s because of the great big band music and swing dancing. I also would like to spend time in Cuba during the early 1950’s, again, because of the music and dance. If you can’t tell, I love to dance!

2. Your book is set during the Mexican Revolution. What fascinates you most about this time period?

There are many reasons why the Mexican Revolution fascinates me. For one, many family stories, nursery rhymes, music, and dances I grew up with came from the Mexican Revolution. I also admire the fortitude and resiliency of the women and children during this time. I appreciate the universality of this drive to survive and how it transcends eras and cultural lines.

3. What elements of this time period do we still see today?

Unfortunately, many elements of that period are still with us today. People are still escaping violence in their homelands and searching for refuge in a foreign land. The economic disparities from back then are becoming more prevalent not only around the world but also here in the United States. Refugee camps, like the ones my great-grandmother lived in, are part of our daily news. But people always come together to help others. We see this in our borders and in countries like Poland, just as we’ve seen it throughout history.

4. What kind of insights do you think kids from this time period have?

Children from that era were resilient. Many of them were orphaned and had younger siblings to care for. They displayed immense fortitude and an unquenchable drive to survive the war and overcome the oppression surrounding them.

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

I grew up listening to many stories of Pancho Villa. To my family, he was a hero. I was fascinated to learn how despite his strict military discipline and short temper, he had a soft spot for children, especially poor ones. If he ever came across a group of poor children he’d say, “We should build a school here.” During his time governing the state of Chihuahua, he opened 200 new schools. He also tripled the wages of all educators, stating that teaching was the most “noble” of all jobs. He believed an educated society was essential for the success of a country.

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

I have many favorites but one of them is Crispin by Avi. Despite the story taking place in medieval England, I was intrigued to learn how the agonizing and miserable conditions that the common folk endured during that time were very similar to what my own family lived through in Mexico hundreds of years later.

7. What are you working on right now?

I’m preparing for the launch of my second book The Other Side of the River. This book follows Petra Luna’s story in the United States as a refugee after having escaped the Mexican Revolution. I have also started a new middle grade novel that may or may not be historical…I’m still deciding, so stay tuned.

Amber and Clay

 

Title: Amber and Clay

Author: Laura Amy Schlitz

Setting: Ancient Greece

Recommended Age: Middle Grade


 What it’s about…

Amber and Clay is a part-verse, part-prose novel about two young people’s whose destinies are linked by fate and a mother’s love.  Rhaskos is a Thracian slave boy who longs to draw horses. Melisto is an Athenian citizen’s daughter who wishes to run wild and free as a bear. Divided by distance and separated by the bounds of privilege, Rhaskos and Melisto know nothing of the other’s greatest dreams and deepest secrets.  But the two children’s lives become intertwined when Rhaskos’s mother is sold to Melisto’s father, and their destinies are sealed when tragedy strikes. Told from multiple perspectives (including gods), Amber and Clay is an epic story of bonds broken and oaths kept.

My hot take…

This book reads like it sprung from the brain a citizen of ancient Athens.  Characters speak and opine with the sensibilities of another civilization which deepens the already impressive verisimilitude of Schlitz’s world. Schlitz seems to trust her audience implicitly and offers a wonderful author’s note on the time period and her choices for that extra curious reader. Multiple viewpoints provide insight and humor, whether we’re watching Rhaskos mourn the loss of his mother, or listening to Hermes make fun of everything humans hold so dear. Perhaps the most unexpected viewpoint is that of the nameless academics whose pontifications on the meaning of ancient artifacts frame the story. With each shard of pottery they pour over we’re reminded that the objects that stand the test of time only tell one iota of the story of the people who once held them.

You might like this book if you enjoy: Ghost stories, antiquities, and thunder storms.

7 Questions with Anita Jari Kharbanda

Visit Anita’s Website, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

I’d definitely travel to Punjab in the 1700s and meet the main character of my book, Mai Bhago. I wish I could say I’d fight beside her, but she is the battle warrior, and truly my pen is my sword. I’d love to learn about her battle strategies, and what motivates her. This discussion would have to take place after I faint when first meeting her! 😂

2. Your book is set in the late 1600s and early 1700s in Punjab, India. What fascinates you most about this time period?

I’m fascinated by this time period because it marks the birth of Sikhism. This is my religion and Mai Bhago’s religion. During this time period India was not actually a country. It was a subcontinent with border skirmishes and invading groups. At the same time, however, it was full of vivid cultural traditions and celebrations. This was the time period before, and leading up to colonization. It is important to understand everything that led up to colonization, so we can connect with South Asia’s evolution. History is key to helping us understand why certain events happened. History also teaches us to learn from the past, and make better decisions in the future.

3. What elements of this time period do we still see today?

We still see some of the same foods, the language and clothing. The language is Punjabi, and a staple meal includes roti, a wheat flat bread.

4.     What do you think young people from this time and place could teach us today?

I think they could teach us the importance of bravery and fighting for what you believe in.

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

I did not include historical details about Banda Singh, a brave soldier of the Sikhs. He avenged the tenth Guru’s murder and laid the foundation for a Sikh kingdom. The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, was the final living guru of Sikhism. Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, and our tenth guru named our Holy Book the final Guru, within which lay the teachings and beliefs of those before him. Banda Singh was an ascetic who lived in hermitude, and who the Guru met when living near the Godavari River. The Guru saw a special fire in Banda Singh, and charged him with avenging the men who persecuted the Guru’s Sikhs and sons. The Guru was then fatally injured, and Banda Singh went on to kill the man responsible, as well as build a Sikh Empire.

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

I have too many to count! I love reading books about partition era India, and the Nazi era. I’ve also enjoyed stories about the Texas Dust Bowl or the Transcontinental Railroad or the California Gold Rush. Give me good writing and an interesting piece of history and I’m hooked!

7. What are you working on right now?

I can’t tell you that. It’s a secret. 🙂

 

 

Rima’s Rebellion

 

Title: Rima’s Rebellion

Author: Margarita Engle

Setting: Cuba, 1923-1936

Recommended Age: 12 and up


What it’s about…

Rima’s Rebellion is a novel in verse about a young woman fighting to make an unjust world a better place for her and other girls like her. Rima comes of age in a world where femicide of adulterous women is the legal right of every husband, and children born out of wedlock are subjected to cruelty and exclusion. Rather than accept things the way they are or live in fear, Rima joins a multi-generational brood of strong women to demand a better life. Despite the fact that the powers that be want girls like Rima to simply disappear, she finds her place in the world, helping her sisters in arms, push and pull their country towards a brighter future.

My hot take…

This book dives into the rich history of feminists in early 20th century Cuba. Margarita Engle has clearly researched the period in-depth and it shows. Moreover, the strong theme of feminism extends far beyond the demands of female characters to vote and overturn misogynist laws. Engle’s female characters are allies, even when divided by class, love, and opportunity. Engle’s setting (while firmly historical) is also ripe for adventure. There are daring horse chases, dramatic escapes, and even true love. Readers today will find Rima’s defiance of unjust laws and practices inspiring and hopefully will feel compelled to lean into their own beliefs about the world as it is and the world as it should be.

You might like this book if you enjoy: Riding horses (fast), radical poetry presses, and suffragettes.

 

7 Questions with Michael Leali

Visit Michael’s Website, Twitter, Instagram

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

Well, if there’s no time-wimey nonsense happening and no risk to myself, I’m absolutely going back to visit the dinosaurs. Who wouldn’t want to hang with a brontosaurus? I was completely captivated by dinosaurs as a kid. They fueled so much of my imagination and sparked my interest in storytelling. From The Land Before Time series to the plastic dollar store figurines I used to make my own dino movie with my family’s camcorder, I was obsessed. Dinosaurs were magical— Who am I kidding? They still are.

2. Your book is set today but heavily delves into the American Civil War. What fascinates you most about this time period?

I think what I’m most fascinated by is the conflict, tension, and potential that the era represents for the United States. The American Civil War, in many ways, was the beginning of the fight for the soul of our country. I am not a historian by any means, but that’s the way I see it, as someone who is still learning, growing, and coming to understand the world I live in. While the American colonies represented hope and freedom to many white people, it meant the death and destruction of so many others. In addition to the atrocious genocide of Indigenous peoples, for centuries white people enslaved Black people, building a country upon their labor and lives, benefiting from their pain and bondage. For me, the American Civil War era is a turning point in our country’s history toward something better, the first real steps we took to be truly free and equitable for all. We have come a long way since then, but we still have a very long way to go.

3. What elements of this time period are still with us today?

We might not frequently use butter churns or play skittles, but we are still fighting for equality and the moral center of our country. BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities still suffer greatly from inequities, as do many other individuals with underrepresented and historically marginalized identities. We might not go to battle as they did in the mid-1800s, but we fight on in other ways. We sign petitions, and we vote. We use words. We tell stories.

4. What kind of insights do you think kids from this time period have?

This was an era that tested many peoples’ courage, across many identities and backgrounds. Young people fought and died to ensure that “equality” was not a hollow word in the United States. That persistence, determination, and bravery to stand up against your own family and friends, against bigotry and hatred—it’s powerful and not to be forgotten as a part of the history of the United States.

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

Since The Civil War of Amos Abernathy isn’t historical fiction but rather about history and set in the present day, I had to be very selective. My focus was narrow and mainly on the LGBTQ+ community during the 1800s and largely during the American Civil War. That being said, there was a minute there that I was sure I’d be able to incorporate some of the music from the era into the novel. None of it made the cut, but I do recommend giving some of the songs a listen! Here’s some of the tunes I listened to on repeat: “Wildwood Flower,” “Two Brothers,” “Hard Times,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” and “Battle Cry of Freedom.”

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

I detest choosing favorites—how does anyone pick their favorite book, even if narrowed down by genre? Alas, I’ll pick a few. Growing up my mom read many historical fiction novels to me and my siblings. I loved listening to Johnny Tremain and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Both are still two of my favorite books. In recent years, I’ve fallen completely head over heels for titles like Julie Berry’s The Passion of Dolssa and Adam Gidwtiz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale. They are must reads!

7. What are you working on right now?

I’m not sure how much I can actually say about my next book, but… it’s a contemporary fantasy middle grade that is a very loose retelling of a popular folktale that explores truth, identity, and community. This book is due to come out in 2023 from HarperCollins. I’m also working on a couple of young adult projects, and I have a picture book out on submission. I’ve also got a middle grade fantasy project that I’ve drafted, and I am very eager to continue developing it. My brain is always writing, even when my fingers aren’t at my keyboard!

7 Questions with Amber Lough

Visit Amber’s Website

1. If you could travel back in time, where and when would you go?

That’s a tough question, especially since I’d miss modern medicine and I don’t know how I’d narrow that down. However, I’m currently drawn to the Incas, and I would love to see the Incan Empire pre-Europeans. As long as I was more ghost than participant, so I wouldn’t somehow change history. There’s also that fear of getting stuck, or getting stuck on the end of a spear. Another era I’d like to visit is Germany in the time of Gutenberg. It would be amazing to see printing taking off, knowing where it leads.

2. Your book is set in Russia in 1917. What fascinates you most about this time period?

It was a time of drastic, rapid change. Not only was the world at war, but the Russian government was in the midst of a revolution, technology was changing at a very rapid place, and women’s rights were at the forefront in many countries. So many people focus on the Romanovs, but I’m really interested in the revolutionaries themselves, and the common people who had to live with the repercussions of all this rapid, confusing change.

3. What elements of this time period do we still see today?

Not much has changed, even though everything has changed. Women are still fighting for equality, technology is rolling so fast we can hardly keep up, and the government feels as if it’s teetering on the precipice. I imagine that the uneasy feeling we feel now is similar to theirs in 1917.

4. What do you think kids from 1917 could teach us today?

Resilience and patience, I think. To make great changes, sometimes you have to keep doing the dirty work, day in and day out, and trust that in the end, that mountain will get moved. So many of us want a quick fix now, and get disillusioned when we don’t get what we want immediately. In 1917, people were used to working hard and waiting for results. (Obviously, there are still people who work hard and have patience, but I think it was more common then than it is now. At least, it feels that way in my family.)

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

There were lots of things that I couldn’t include in the story, for whatever reason. Sometimes, it felt like I had too much information and if I included this or that, it would detract from the story itself. One thing I found really interesting was that the 1st Russia Women’s Battalion of Death was the most highly educated battalion in the entire theater of war. There were peasants and factory workers, but also lawyers and doctors, and even aristocrats. I wish I could listen in to their conversations as they bunked down for the night, with the different social classes mixing and chatting while they cleaned their weapons.

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

I can’t have a favorite! That said, one of the historical fiction novels that really seeped into my bones was Elizabeth Wein’s Rose Under Fire. I know the first book in that series, Code Name Verity, gets more notice, but Rose Under Fire really hit me in the heart. I find myself thinking about it sometimes when I’m standing in the cold and think my coat is too thin.

7. What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a Middle Grade Fantasy set during the golden era of the Hanseatic League, in the Baltic Sea. It’s so much fun, and sometimes I have to remind myself that I don’t have to stick to the facts like I did with Open Fire. In this project, history is only a springboard.

The Parker Inheritance


Title: The Parker Inheritance

Author: Varian Johnson

Setting: South Carolina, spans 1914-present day

Recommended age: Middle Grade


What it’s about…

The Parker Inheritance is a story about solving today’s mysteries to uncover the secrets of the past. Candice is pretty sure she’s in for a dull time when her mom says they’re spending the summer in Lambert, South Carolina. But when she discovers an old letter in an attic, she becomes entrenched in a tantalizing mystery that reaches decades back into the past. The mystery itself is enough to completely hook Candice and her new friend Brandon, but that’s not all. A massive fortune awaits whoever solves the puzzle… if they can figure it out in time.

My hot take…

This is a book for mystery lovers. More Westing Game than Sherlock Holmes, The Parker Inheritance weaves hard history through riddles and puzzles that span across multiple generations. In fact, this book makes a point of connecting the past to the present… or rather, the present to the past. Make no mistake, this book has a riveting story, compelling characters, and makes excellent use of parallel plot lines. But it also does some pretty important work of demonstrating how we are connected to past events, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Readers today will likely feel compelled to dig through all those boxes in attics and basement in search of lost stories, and maybe even ask their parents and grandparents some tough questions.

You might like this book if you enjoy: kid sleuths, dusty attics, and midnight tennis matches

All the Truth That’s in Me


Title:
All the Truth That’s in Me

Author: Julie Berry

Setting: Colonial New England (perhaps… but more on that in a minute!)

Recommended Age: Young Adult


What it’s about…

All the Truth That’s in Me is a story about being silenced and finding your voice. When Judith returns to her village after being missing for two years, she hardly receives a warm welcome. It also doesn’t help that the boy she’s been in love with seems destined to marry another. But when her village comes under attack, Judith must muster all her strength to fight back, find her voice, and speak her truth, no matter the cost.

My hot take…

This book starts off with incredibly high stakes that only build with each page turn. The sense of danger for Judith and her village is very, very real. Every character is living on the edge in some way. In many ways, this is a book about recovering from trauma and finding strength. Berry’s colonial New England setting is so rich you can almost smell the autumn frost and wood smoke in the air. That said, history “puritans” will note that Berry is careful to avoid specifically nailing down her time and place and does play fast and loose with the time period to help further her plot and raise the stakes. Readers today will enjoy the sense of danger and find much in common with Judith’s romantic plight if they’ve ever liked/loved/crushed in silence (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t?).

You might like this book if you enjoy: Unrequited love, juicy language, and Titus Andronicus

The Beatryce Prophecy


Title:
The Beatryce Prophecy

Author: Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Sophie Blackall

Setting: Medieval Europe* (sort of!)

Recommended Age: Middle Grade


What it’s about…

The Beatryce Prophecy is a story about a girl with a goat and a great destiny. When Beatryce appears mysteriously at a monastery, the monks aren’t quite sure what to make of her. She remembers nothing of her life except her name. But she’s sharp as a tack. And she is a girl who can read! Clearly, there’s something more to Beatryce… something prophetic. But if the King’s men get to her before she can realize her destiny, Beatryce will pay the ultimate price.

My hot take…

This book centers girls and women in the rich tapestry of Medieval life. (Don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say, Kate DiCamillo gives Beatryce access to “boys only” spaces, like monasteries and royal courts.) Relationships are tender, lovely, and compelling, particularly that of the friendship between Beatryce and Answellica the goat. At its heart, this book is about the power of storytelling, which parallels nicely with the illuminated manuscript work of the monks who take Beatryce in. Though the world of The Beatryce Prophecy is set squarely in the Middle Ages, readers today will find one thing in particular resonant and evergreen: Smart girls who speak their minds are a force to be reckoned with.

You might like this book if you enjoy: Queendoms, calligraphy, and naughty goats 

*A bit of magic in this one as well as maple candies, which are from North America!