|Rebecca Hazell - author of THE BAREFOOT BOOK OF HEROIC CHILDREN
Rebecca Hazell studied Russian and Chinese History at the University of California, Santa Cruz, graduating with honors. Working as a designer and writer, she has written and illustrated filmstrips, designed craft kits for children, and is also an award-winning needlepoint designer. She now lives in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Q. What inspired you to write HEROIC CHILDREN?
A. A friend who had read my first two books, Heroines and Heroes, suggested the idea, and I liked it right away. There are many books written for children about heroic people, but I’d never seen one about children, and that seemed strange when I thought about it. Children are as capable of heroism as anyone.
Q. You have included young men and women who lived in many different eras and excelled in a wide variety of ways, some more obviously notable than others. What interpretations of “heroic” were you using as your main criteria in making this selection?
A. My criteria were rather complicated, actually. First of all, I don’t think of heroism as being just one thing, but as being a general attitude to life, a kind of bravery tempered with kindness as well as intelligence. When choosing whom to include, I also tried to find children from as many continents as possible, as many races as possible, and as many religions as possible. This was not because I was trying to be politically correct but because it seemed important to show that heroism bridges boundaries of nation, race and creed. Nor did I want to include just children who would already be well-known in the West.
Q.Your writing combines third person introductions and summaries with fictionalized first person accounts by each child. What prompted you to use this device?
A. In my first two books I wanted to convey my fascination with the totality of people’s lives— their personalities and their cultures as well as their achievements —so I broke up each story into mini-chapters. With HEROIC CHILDREN, I wanted to start afresh, and as much as possible to draw upon the imaginations and sympathies of my young readers. In order to set the scene for each first person account, I needed an introduction, a way for the reader to picture her or himself in a different world. But the heroic children could only tell part of their story, the part they “knew” about. Rather than leave readers dangling, I needed to close each child’s story with what happened to him or her afterward.
A. Your book is remarkable in the way it personalizes the experiences of each child. Would you like to see this approach to history taught in classrooms? What do you think is the value of approaching history in this way?
Q. Yes, I would very much like to see a personal approach to the way history is taught. History is about people, so why not remember who people were as well as what they achieved? Those achievements arose from who a person was and how he or she met life challenges. There was struggle involved, and passion. Children face so many challenges today. I believe that they need to see how other children took difficult life situations and transformed them into opportunities. This more intimate approach allows them to understand how unique each heroic child was, how special. I hope that children reading this book will be inspired to find out what is unique and special about themselves, and to contribute those qualities to their own life circumstances. I believe that is also what a good education helps a child to do.
Q. Each of the people you have included in this anthology was exceptional, but did your research yield any particular surprises or unexpected information about them?
A. In a way, everything I found out was a surprise and a delight. Some children, like Anne Frank, are so well-known that we think we know them. To go back, for instance, and read about her life and the times she lived in was to rediscover new virtues in an old friend. The greatest surprise for me, however, was Anne Sullivan. What a courageous child and so full of fire! She could have turned out a criminal, or even died in the poor house, but instead she took her anger and her intelligence, her whole being, in fact, and put it at the service of another child. In doing so, she allowed Helen Keller to become a great heroine in her own right.