Thursday, January 19, 2017

Serious Moral Issues Discussed in Wide-ranging Interview with Carol Matas

Tucson Tales, a publication showcasing new and established writers, has posted a thoughtful, wide-ranging interview about Tucson Jo, Carol Matas' award-winning historical novel for middle grades.

Carol talks about the story behind the story—cowboys and Jews, antisemitism, even in the American Wild West, and important moral issues of relevance in today's world. A must read for teachers—and for kids of all ages.

Carol Matas talks about the meaning of fredom in this excerpt from the Tucson Tales interview:
Q: Incorporating more serious themes into your work for children seems to be an important part of what you do. Does this ever extend beyond the page? Do you ever engage in a dialogue with children, say, after a reading? If so, what comes of it? How do you children react after reading your stories?
A: My writing always has two main components and has had since I began. The first is a desire to tell a riveting story, something my reader will not be able to put down and something they will really enjoy. I remember the delight I felt while reading Frank Baum and the Oz books when I was young and in some ways I am always trying to emulate that feeling. 
Secondly I pursue a theme that I want to explore and that I hope young readers will think about. It is usually some kind of question. In the case of Tucson Jo, I wanted to talk about the idea of freedom. Freedom is a basic American value. And yet, what does it mean? I found it interesting that the Wild West was, in fact, not half as wild in terms of firearms in 1882 as it is now. Back then no one outside of the sheriff was allowed to carry a gun within the city so that citizens could be safe. Now the opposite is the case. So doesn’t someone’s “freedom” to carry a gun run up against someone else’s freedom to a safe and secure city? What about the freedom to wear pants for women? To me this echoes male decisions about women and their bodies – why are men allowed to be autonomous but women are not? Can women not be trusted to make decisions for themselves? If we look at the southern US today we see that the answer is still a resounding no.
Good historical fiction is not really about the past. It is really about the present and in it I attempt to help young people think. In each session in a classroom, discussion is foremost. I ask questions and elicit answers. We talk. We discuss. Mostly I encourage students to think for themselves and to try to break away from fixed ideas. I also remind them that when trying to find out what is right and what is wrong thinking about “Do not do unto others as you would not want done to you” is always a good mantra.

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