GOOD TIMES: on time travel and political awareness…

Okay, so I’m writing this book called Seven Stories Up. A fun middle grade romp! (as you can see from the related illustration above)

In it, a girl named Annie is living in 1987 Atlanta. Until, through a strange series of events, she isn’t anymore.  Suddenly she’s living in 1937 Baltimore.

Okay, pretty standard MG Time-travel story, right?

So… here’s what is DRIVING ME BONKERS…

Annie is not stupid. Annie is not unkind.  And though Annie is not a goodie-two-shoes or anything, she has to see things in 1937 that upset her ethical sensibilities. Right?

RIGHT?

Which leads me to this question:  how much should this overtake the story?

When I wrote Any Which Wall, I ran into this a bit– the kids ran off  to Camelot to meet Merlin and it wasn’t as they expected. Fifth century dental care, for instance, left something to be desired.

But 1937… that’s like, HITLER and SEGREGATED  LUNCH COUNTERS. And Annie is a kid in 1987. If she isn’t a political activist, she certainly knows Anne Frank.  She knows MLK Jr.

How could she walk around and not want to say something or do something?

I’m having trouble thinking of other books that negotiate this situation, rather than avoiding it.  Can anyone help me?

For now, I’m trying to use the conflict, trying to get Annie to evaluate her own age, through the lens of 1937. But that’s not always easy. And I don’t want to be heavyhanded, since the book isn’t “about” politics.

Though of course  kids DO LOVE HEAVYHANDED POLITICAL MESSAGES ABOUT RACE AND CLASS IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY.

As we all know.

Help?

10 Responses to “GOOD TIMES: on time travel and political awareness…”

  1. Ken Wheaton Says:

    How old is Annie? Depending on the age, kids may not be as willing to stick their necks out over some things. Hell, it could take a time for her to even notice what’s going on, right? Sure we’re integrated now, but in a lot of people’s lives, there’s still plenty of segregation in day to day life. Neighborhoods still tend to skew toward one race for another, for example.
    As far as Hitler goes, I don’t know. By that point, the Nuremberg laws would have been passed so even if the concentration camps hadn’t come along (publicly at any rate), it would be the topic of conversation in SOME areas.

    I guess I’d need to know, too, how she got there and if she’s trying to get back. In other word, if she’s a little girl freaked out about landing in 1937 and trying to get back, segregated lunch counters and Hitler might be the least of my concerns (at first), assuming that even if I talked about them or tried to do something, people would simply think I’m a stupid kid or possibly insane.

  2. Kaethe Says:

    Hm. Interesting question. My first thought is she wouldn’t say or do anything because who the hell listened to kids in 1937? But also, when would it come up? Most of the rules of segregation were implicit. She might run into a sign saying “no blacks” but it’s more likely that she’d eat at a lunch counter that only had white customers. Would she notice? Annie isn’t going to be looking at racially and gender-segregated want ads, is she going to be reading the foreign news section of the paper?

    I can’t wait to see what you do with this. And now I want to ask my mom what racism and anti-semitism and sexism looked like just before the war.

  3. Anon Says:

    I seem to remember “Bud, Not Buddy” handled issues of race and class well. Not much Hitler, but same time period.

  4. Charlotte Says:

    Hi Laurel,

    I just went through my list of time travel stories I’ve reviewed (almost 140), and there are very few that directly address the reaction of the “modern” child to the inequities and downright evils of the past (although probably many make passing references). Two that do are A Different Day, a Different Destiny, by Annette Laing, and Freedom Maze, by Delia Sherman, although neither is the period you’re writing about. The first involves a modern girl reacting to the plight of 19th century mill workers, the second is about a twentieth century girl living life as a slave. E. Nesbit makes some references to the reactions of her timetraveling children to the social justice aspects of what they experience, but not so much as to be immediatly useful to you, I imagine.

    If you are interested in my whole list of time travel books, it’s here — http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com/p/time-travel-books.html

    I’ll look forward to adding yours to the list! (and I realize, to my dismay, that I didn’t put a link to my review of Any Which Wall there–I shall have to quickly re-read it, so as to make sure I put it in its proper place).

  5. laurel Says:

    SO helpful. Thank you! I find, as I think this out, that I may need to dial back the LOUD thinking about politics… but I’m mulling it all over.

  6. Ms. Yingling Says:

    There were children back in “historical” time periods who didn’t agree with the discrimination they saw. I had dear friends who grew up at a time and place when their friends were all in the Hitler Youth, and they did NOT agree with what was going on! They would do sneaky little things to undermine the group– putting a Hitler Youth bandana on the dog springs to mind– and it was a bit dangerous, but since they were young and foolish they didn’t care. Perhaps your time traveler can meet similar children who don’t think what is happening is right and are taking a chance. This makes it more about children being children and wanting to go against authority in general rather than making it a political statement. Make sense?

  7. laurel Says:

    YES! ANd this is GOOD STUFF. But in this case I fear it would pull me way to far out of the tiny story. This is the struggle– of having set a very small tight story inside a time when turning inward meant NOT seeing a major thing happening in the world. Of course many people did this, but it just seems hard to imagine a kid from today would go back and not at least notice herself not doing anything. Raised as we are now on the idea that
    “those who stand by and do nothing” are complicit.

    Though of course, it hardly turns the youth of today into radicals.

  8. Susan Says:

    I think we could add Jane Yolen’s wonderful Devil’s Arithmetic to Charlotte’s list.

  9. Susan Says:

    And if there aren’t several more titles in which time traveling characters are shocked by the injustices of the past, it seems like there should be!

  10. laurel Says:

    Oh, yes! Absolutely!!! I loved that book.

    But I guess my question is less about books where a kid ends up in a particularly troubled moment in history, and more about kids not having questions about the eras where they end up. Particularly as it relates to civil rights and women’s rights.

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