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Available for virtual visits in:
Alberta, New Brunswick & Ontario

Craft: Author

Genre: Teen Fiction

Grades: Grades 9 – Grade 12

Cost for School and Public Readings Program: $200.00

Website: www.michellebarker.ca

Virtual Presentation Information

Target age groups for both presentations: grades 9-12

Presentation 1: My Long List of Impossible Things (Annick Press, 2020)

  • A short summary of what the novel is about (a teenage girl who is forced to leave her home in Germany as WW2 is ending) and a bit of background on Germany in WW2
  • Why I wrote this book (my mother’s background as a child in Hitler’s Germany; when the war ended and the Soviets arrived, her family was thrown out of their home)
  • A reading of the section of the novel where Katja and her family have to leave. She has ten minutes to pack her stuff and it has to be things she can carry.
  • Discussion: What would you take? What would you find hardest to leave behind?
  • Hindsight and history: we tend to look back at history with the benefit of hindsight and think that what happened was inevitable. We wonder why people didn’t act differently or weren’t better prepared. But at the time, things aren’t obvious. History is often a series of small roads not taken, unexpected occurrences that change everything, coincidences, minor things that turn into major disasters, momentum that isn’t apparent.
  • The similarities between wartime and pandemic time:
  • Front line health care workers are similar to soldiers.
  • The shift of factories into producing things like masks, ventilators, and hand sanitizer is much like what happened during the war, except they were making weapons
  • Inventions that come from necessity
  • The desire to assign blame, and to scapegoat
  • How hard it can be to choose to do the right thing when it runs counter to what you want to do
  • The significance of a “long list of impossible things”

What are the takeaways from both the war and the pandemic? What can we learn, and how can we find hope?

Conclusion: Baruch Spinoza: “If you want the present to be different from the past, study the past.”

Q&A to follow

Presentation 2: The House of One Thousand Eyes (Annick Press, 2018)

  • A short summary of what the novel is about (a teenage girl living in East Berlin whose subversive uncle goes missing) and a bit of background on East Germany
  • Why I wrote this book (my mother’s background in East Germany and how she got out)
  • Selected reading
  • Discuss/show the food, music, clothing in East Germany and contrast them to the west
  • What it was like to be a teenager living there
  • Informants—informing on your friends and family
  • Who’s listening? The intense level of surveillance
  • Lack of freedom and choices: the reality of having to toe the Party line if you want to go to university or get a decent job; restrictions on what you could read, the music you could listen to, what you could wear, where you could travel, what you could say
  • The consequences of misbehavior: factory work, imprisonment
  • Discussion: you have been given a choice: if you inform on a friend or family member, you will be able to go to university and study whatever you want. If you don’t, you will be sent to work at a menial job for the rest of your life. What would you do?
  • “East German” moments during the pandemic and our reactions to restrictions
  • Conclusion: we take freedom for granted because we’ve always had it. Imagine a life without these freedoms; there are places in the world where these freedoms don’t exist.

Q&A to follow

Book List

My Long List of Impossible Things. Teen historical fiction, Annick Press (Canada and US, March, 2020) ISBN 978-1-77321-365-1

The House of One Thousand Eyes.  Teen historical fiction, Annick Press (Canada and US, September, 2018) ISBN 978-1-77321-071-1

A Year of Borrowed Men. Illustrated picture book, Pajama Press (Toronto, November, 2015; US, April, 2016) ISBN-13: 978-1-92748-583-5

The Beggar King.  Young adult fantasy, Thistledown Press (Saskatchewan, 2013)ISBN 978-1-927068-37-3

Old Growth, Clear Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii. Chapbook published by Leaf Press (Vancouver Island, B.C., 2012) ISBN  978-1-926655-54-3

Biography

Michelle Barker is an author and editor who lives in Vancouver, B.C. Her fiction, non-fiction and poetry have been published in literary reviews around the world. A chapbook, Old Growth, Clear-Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii, was published in 2012. The Beggar King, a YA fantasy novel, came out in 2013. A Year of Borrowed Men, a historical picture book, was published in 2015 and was a finalist for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. Her YA novel, The House of One Thousand Eyes, was named a Kirkus Best Book of 2018 and has won numerous awards, including the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award. Her newest YA novel, My Long List of Impossible Things,was named a Junior Library Guild gold standard selection. Michelle holds an MFA in creative writing from UBC and works as a senior editor at the Darling Axe.