Three Questions With Susan Lynn Meyer

Posted November 01, 2017  | Written by PJ Our Way Team


 

What is a black radish and how did you decide on the title of the book?

Black radishes are real things! I learned about them as a girl when my dad told us the story of how his cousin bribed German border guards with them during World War II. As a kid, I found this story fascinating. Because the radishes play an important role in the novel, I thought they would make an appropriate title--and also one that is a bit mysterious and memorable!

Black radishes are better known in Europe, and apparently the Germans loved them. Here’s what the French kind look like:

PJ Our Way reviewers describe Black Radishes as a page turner that they just could not put down, but a few mention that they struggle with the ending – why is it important for stories to have unexpected or difficult endings?

Readers are left uncertain about what has happened to Marcel, Gustave’s close friend, who remained in Paris when Gustave and his family left. Gustave is based on my father, Jean-Pierre Meyer, and Marcel was inspired by a real boy my father was very close to. That real boy’s name was Georges (or, for short, Jo-Jo) Lieber.

Marcel’s mischievousness and love of fun are based on stories I heard about that real boy. Jo-Jo and my dad played the looking-up game together, and Jo-Jo was in Boy Scouts with my dad. During the war, my father, who had made it to America, was left worrying about what had happened to his friend, who lived in Lyon, France. I left Marcel’s situation unknown at the end of the book partly for that reason.

In the sequel to Black Radishes, Skating with the Statue of Liberty, Gustave worries about Marcel the way my father did about Jo-Jo, and the reader learns a bit more about what has happened to Marcel. I think it is important for books, even books for young readers, not to make things in the past seem easier than they were.

What are you working on now?

I’m taking a break from the heaviness of writing about war! I’m working on a novel about a Russian Jewish immigrant girl living in Boston in the early 20th century. She gets a job as a maid at Wellesley College (where I teach!), because she desperately wants to go to college there. There were nearly as many maids as students then, living in the same huge building. They were almost exactly the same age, though they lived very different lives. But to get the job, Alina has to pretend to be older and she has to hide that she is Jewish--and gradually those lies start catching up with her.

 

Susan Lynn Meyer is the author of two novels for middle-grade readers, Black Radishes and its sequel, Skating With the Statue of Liberty (available for selection November 2017). She is also the author of two picture books, New Shoes and Matthew and Tall Rabbit Go Camping. Her books have been translated into German and Chinese and have won the Jane Addams Peace Association Book Award, the Sydney Taylor Honor Award, the Charlotte Huck Honor Award, NAACP Image Award Nominee, and many others. She is an English professor at Wellesley College and lives outside Boston with her husband, daughter, and mischievous cat, Molly, who appears as a character in her second novel!

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