Monday, November 18, 2019

Author Interview with Jennifer Voight Kaplan, author of the MG novel Crushing the Red Flowers

Welcome to Middle-Grade Monday! Today I have an author interview with Jennifer Voight Kaplan about her book Crushing the Red Flowers.

The Book-
Emil Rosen and Friedrich Weber couldn’t have less in common, but in the summer of 1938, they must both deal with the changes steamrolling through Germany. Friedrich struggles with an uncle in jail and a cruel Hitler Youth leader, while Emil does his best to avoid the blistering anti-Semitism that’s threatening his family. As the rules of yesterday no longer make sense, both boys find comfort at a private spot along the Leine River. Then in the late hours of November 9th, their world explodes, and the two boys are forced together in a race against time that requires Friedrich to risk his life in order to save Emil and his family. You'll hold your breath through the heart-pounding ending!

The Author- 

Jennifer Voigt Kaplan is an award-winning author of children’s fiction. Her debut children’s novel set in 1938 Germany, Crushing the Red Flowers, was praised by James Patterson and recognized in six literary contests before its publication, including earning a Letter of Merit for the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant and winning the middle-grade category of the BookLife Prize for Fiction (Publishers Weekly).

Jennifer was born in Germany, raised in Philadelphia, and now resides in the New York City area. Since her father was German and mother a German Jew, she grew up with a multilayered understanding of the challenges that Jews and Germans faced during WWII. She holds degrees from the Wharton School of Business in marketing and from the London School of Economics in social psychology.

The Interview-
1. Please tell us about the book in your own words.
Crushing the Red Flowers is the story of how two ordinary boys cope under extraordinary circumstances during the pogrom we call Kristallnacht. The novel alternates perspectives between two twelve-year-olds, Emil, a German Jewish boy, and Friedrich, a boy in Hitler’s Jungvolk. The two boys find themselves scrambling to keep up with the striking changes of 1938. Friedrich struggles with a cruel, new Jungvolk leader and a jailed uncle, while Emil tries to escape the anti-Semitic fog that’s seeped into every cranny of his life. Then on November 9th, the world unravels and nightmares leak onto the streets. They each must push past the person they thought they were because neither is certain they’ll survive what comes next.
Crushing red flowers (poppies) symbolizes the end of the distinct political, social, and economic culture that was present in Germany between the world wars. The Jewish characters explore patriotic loyalty, emigration, newly clouded German Jewish identity, and the optimist/ pessimist dichotomy that was present in the German Jewish community before Kristallnacht. The non-Jewish characters highlight the debate about how much Germans challenged Adolf Hitler and delve into the nuanced experience of German resistance to Nazism.

2. Tell us what inspired you to write about this difficult period of history?

While Crushing the Red Flowers is fictional, it is based on true family experiences. My heritage is half German and half German Jew. I grew up with a multilayered understanding of the challenges that Jewish and non-Jewish residents of Germany faced during WWII. The stories I heard from both sides of my family were filled with love and devotion, as well as pain and loss, so I think it’s important for young people to have access to historical fiction with diverse perspectives. 1938 is a turning point in history. That critical year offers a unique vantage point to examine what came before, during and after, but unfortunately, I sometimes find it overlooked in school curricula.

3. Was the research challenging?
Writers of history strive to genuinely portray events, but since writing fiction is by nature a subjective representation, some degree of distortion is inevitable. To minimize misrepresentation, I tried to conduct extensive research. To start, I interviewed family members who lived through the period, read everything I could find about Kristallnacht and the Jungvolk/ Hitler Youth, and worked with experts like Myrna Goldenberg, professor emerita of Holocaust history at Montgomery College, and Dr. Patricia Heberer-Rice from the Holocaust Memorial Museum. But that wasn’t enough. I still had many historical questions. What was the exact weather in Hannover on certain dates? In what month did wild poppies begin to wilt? What foods were difficult to attain in 1938? As a result, I ramped up the research with additional sources. For example, I wanted to mention wallpaper, but couldn’t find much about wall coverings used during that time in my existing sources. So, I hopped on the train and spent the day at the New York Public Library Picture Collection. I browsed through image after image until I gained a solid sense of German interiors in the 1930s.

4. What would you like readers to take away from your novel?
Many people today do not understand the Holocaust and I believe the more access young people have to historically accurate information, the more it informs their ethics and decisions. The novel explores the still relevant themes of kindness and bullying and provides a narrative explanation of how Jewish and non-Jewish residents of Germany proceeded during this era. Ultimately, I hope to help children develop their awareness of morality, realize how their decisions can impact others, and identify bullying in our modern day.

5. Tell us about your path to publication.
Crushing the Red Flowers took five years to write and then an additional four to launch. I began plotting in 2010, but didn’t know how to proceed. I had been writing short stories and picture books for enjoyment for a few years, but never a novel. There was plenty of trial and error. I’d sometimes write numerous paragraphs, sleep on it, and then do a complete re-write the next day. And in that way, during the limited amount of time I was able to afford myself to create the book, I taught myself to write. I squeezed in writing workshops, watched YouTube videos on craft, read tons of how-to books, and attended conferences. My reading time doubled as learning time. I twice-read books, first for pleasure and second for study. I deconstructed them, highlighted stunning prose and flagged memorable dialog. 
By the end of 2015, the novel was finished. I began submitting to literary agents, then editors, and all the while to writing contests. By the time it was selected from the slush pile by Ig Publishing, a wonderful award-winning independent press, Crushing the Red Flowers had been recognized in six writing contests, including earning a Letter of Merit in the 2012 SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant and winning the Middle-Grade Category in the 2016 Publishers Weekly BookLife Prize for Fiction.

6. Any advice for aspiring writers?
Remain focused on day-to-day joy. The journey to publish Crushing the Red Flowers was lengthy, even by the monstrously slow standards of the publishing industry. But as I look back, I treasure all the varied moments that were necessary to create it — collaborating with my family, teaching myself the craft of novel writing, establishing relationships with fellow writers, and learning all about the publishing business. So, yes, it was a long journey, but also an affecting, vital, wondrous journey that I am honored to have had.

Thank you Jennifer!

Book Info

by Jennifer Voigt Kaplan – Debut Author
Ig Publishing ( / Distributed by Consortium Book Sales & Distribution
On sale November 19, 2019 / Ages 10-14 / 304 pages
Hardcover: 978-1632460943 / $18.95
Paperback: 978-1632460950 / $12.95


  1. This book is certainly getting rave reviews today! I love holocaust stories as it is such an excellent way for readers to learn about history in a more intimate way. There are so many hero stories and people who went above and beyond to help the Jews. Can't wait to get a hand on a copy! Loved the interview with Jennifer and how she used poppies in her story. Can't imagine her research. Well done!

  2. I am one of those rave reviews. The story is so important for both its historical focus and how it ties into present day news. Thanks for the interview and the wonderful insights from Jennifer.

  3. This book just sounds great. Thanks for an interesting interview.