Based on a true story, The Whispering Town tells the story of a brave child named Anett in Nazi-occupied Denmark. Anett and her parents hide a Jewish boy, Carl, and his mother in their cellar until a fishing boat can take them across the water to safety in neutral Sweden. The Whispering Town has received the Andersen Prize and the Prairie Pasque Children’s Book Award. The Whispering Town was named to the ALA Children’s Notable Book List and is a Sydney Taylor Honor Book as well as a Jane Addams Honor Book. Jennifer lives in Albemarle County, Virginia—about 20 miles from Charlottesville—with her husband, three children.
In a recent piece, "How to Talk to Your Kids About Charlottesville," New York Times children’s book editor Maria Russo included Jennifer Elvgren's The Whispering Town among "children’s books about people — including kids — who helped in the fight against Nazis and against racism here in the U.S."
We asked Jennifer about the inspiration behind her book.
Kar-Ben: Why did you want to become an author?
Elvgren: I wanted to become a children’s writer to create stories that inspire dreams and create empathy in children.
credit: Jen Fariello
Kar-Ben: Where did you get the inspiration for The Whispering Town?
Elvgren: In Ellen Levine’s nonfiction book Darkness Over Denmark she talks about people whispering directions so a Jewish man could find the harbor on a dark night to escape to Sweden. That image leapt off the page and set me to dreaming about an entire town that whispered to save someone. The title came before the story. Then I asked myself the following questions, Who would think of the whispering? Who would be saved by the whispering? And the plot started to come.
Kar-Ben: What are you most excited about promoting in The Whispering Town?
Elvgren: WWII was a black period in world history. I am excited to tell people stories of hope and kindness that arose from that darkness.
Kar-Ben: What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing your book?
Elvgren: I always tend to write manuscripts in third person. This is the first manuscript that I experimented with writing in first person. I felt like I could zoom in closer to Anette’s thoughts. I am now writing a middle grade novel in first person.
Kar-Ben: How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?
Elvgren: I hope this book encourages children to be problem solvers and to help all people in need.