Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!
Where we celebrate new books from Michigan's authors, illustrators and translators.
Congratulations to Dana VanderLugt on the release of Enemies in the Orchard
Congratulations on your debut novel! The book is based on stories passed down in your family. Tell us more about what inspired you to write the book.
Thank you! My grandfather managed a Michigan apple orchard for most of his life. I grew up calling it Grandpa’s Orchard, though technically the two hundred acres of apples never belonged to our family. My dad and his siblings were raised on that farm, and in many ways, I was too. While in an undergraduate creative nonfiction class more than two decades ago, I interviewed my dad about our family orchard and he told me a story: that during the Second World War, a decade before Grandpa and his young family came to live on the farm, German prisoners had been hired to help pick that fall’s crop of apples.
While the original college essay I wrote only included one paragraph about the POWs, my dad’s story planted a seed in my mind, and in 2019, while enrolled in an MFA program, I began researching more intensively and found that here in Michigan, 32 base camps housed German soldiers — some of whom were still teenagers — plucked out of war and in many ways, saved by being captured. I had intended to just write only 20 pages for a writers workshop assignment, but knew almost as soon as I started drafting that I’d need to write this novel. The main characters, Claire and Karl, were immediately real and vivid in my mind.
What was the most difficult part of writing the book?
Writing in verse was one of my favorite parts of this project, but also challenging. When I first begun, I was incredibly lucky to be assigned to work with author (and SCBWI member!) Lesléa Newman, and she was honest that if I was going to write in verse, my poetry had to get stronger. I worked hard to make sure every word counted and to be sure the book is lyrical, emotionally layered, and carefully crafted.
When I taught middle school English, I often was able to sway readers to try a novel-in-verse because all the white space alleviated some pressure for them. For me as writer, I wanted to make sure every bit of text earned its space on the page.
What is something you hope your readers will take away from your book?
In my acknowledgements, I write that the students I was entrusted with over the years as a middle school teacher sat on my shoulder as I wrote this novel, and my hope for my readers is the same hope I had for those students when they picked up a book: that it would move them to think more deeply.
This is a book about World War II on the American home front, but more than that, it’s about empathy, grief, and forgiveness. It’s about looking past assumptions and stereotypes to understand people’s stories and wrestling with one’s own mistakes and shame. And it’s about the realization that there are no real winners when it comes to war.
What are your marketing plans for the book and where can we find it?
I hope to see fellow SCBWI members at my book launch on September 12 at 6:30 p.m. at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids! I’m also looking forward to school visits this fall, as well as events at libraries, bookstores, and Michigan orchards and wineries, such as Anderson & Girls in Stanton and Bos Wine in Elk Rapids. While my book is a middle grade book, I expect to have a lot of adult readers, as well, especially due to the Michigan history connection. Events are added to my website as I book them.
The book is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or any online retailer, though I would love readers to support their local, independent bookstores.
What's next for you?
In my day job as a literacy consultant, I’ve been working on some guest blogs and articles for youth literacy sites. I also contribute to the Reformed Journal as a blogger. I'm beginning to explore the possibility of a companion novel to Enemies in the Orchard, and hopeful that research will propel me forward as it did with this novel.
Thank you for the chance to share about my book and journey! I'm looking forward to hearing from readers, and encourage any SCBWI members to reach out to me anytime. I'm always happy to talk about writing, publishing, and youth literacy!
More about the book . . .
It’s October 1944, and while Claire’s older brother, Danny, is off fighting in World War II, her dad hires a group of German POWs to help with the apple harvest on their farm. Claire wants nothing to do with the enemies in the orchard, until she meets soft-spoken, hardworking Karl. Could she possibly have something in common with a German soldier?
Karl, meanwhile, grapples with his role in the war as he realizes how many lies Hitler’s regime has spread—and his complacency in not standing up against them. But his encounters with Claire give him hope that he can change and become the person he wants to be.
Inspired by the little-known history of POW labor camps in the United States, this lyrical verse novel is told in alternating first-person poems by two young people on opposite sides of the war. Against a vivid backdrop of home front tensions and daily life, intimate entries reveal Claire’s and Karl's hopes and struggles, and their growing friendship even as the war rages on. What are their chances of connection, of redemption, of peace?
More about the author . . .
Dana VanderLugt is a writer and teacher who believes firmly in the power of stories to change hearts and minds. She descends from a family of apple growers in Michigan, where she lives with her husband, three sons, and a spoiled golden retriever. And yes, she makes a mean apple pie.