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Celebrated YA author & illustrator visits BC

Filed in Archive, District News by on October 25, 2019

Eighth graders at Bethlehem Central Middle School this week had the opportunity to spend a morning with the award-winning author and illustrator of a book many of them are reading about a teenage girl’s struggle to live fully after surviving the Holocaust.

Vesper Stamper, whose first book What the Night Sings, has received acclaim as one of the best new historical fiction novels for young adults, traveled to the school on Tuesday sharing with students what inspires her writing and her artwork.

In an advanced art class, she demonstrated her techniques for creating illustrations that draw readers deeper into a story and helped students as they worked on their own sketches and watercolors.

“Being an artist is not about being perfect,” Stamper told the students. “It’s about problem-solving. I always carry a sketchbook and you should too. It helps you to think.”

Afterward, in an assembly for all grade 8 students, Stamper talked about the fact that though she always loved art and drawing, she did not see herself as a writer when she was young.

“I thought writing was something that other kids were good at,” said Stamper, who admitted to failing English in ninth grade. “I didn’t realize that I wrote all the time. I journaled a lot. I poured a lot of emotion into my journals. I would write a lot and I would draw a lot and sometimes my journal and my sketchbook would be the same book.”

Stamper’s inspiration for What the Night Sings she said, began one night while watching Fiddler on the Roof with her family when the author realized she knew very little about the history of the Jews despite being raised in a Jewish family.

She decided that she needed to know more and learning about the resiliency of those who had survived the Holocaust decided she needed to write about it.

At the student assembly, she shared some of the images that helped inspire her to write her novel and develop a main character in teenaged Gerta, who finds the strength to move forward despite unthinkable trauma and loss.

“What causes people not just to survive, but even to thrive?”

The author told students that she started with this question as the basis for developing several of her characters and for the illustrations that accompany the story.

Stamper said in her research and in learning about survivors of Nazi concentration camps, she uncovered some reassuring truths about life’s struggles, both personal and monumental.

“When life turns out very differently than you expected it doesn’t mean that it is over or that the script has been written,” Stamper told the students. “What amazed me about these real-life stories of survivors of the Jewish genocide was that even though nothing about their situation was safe they became strong.”

Stamper said she wanted that to be part of what readers took away from many of the characters in her book.

In addition to talking about the inspiration and process in writing and illustrating the book, Stamper also gave the students a history lesson. She spoke about Jewish persecution throughout history and the threat of anti-Semitism that continues to persist in today’s world.

Many students are reading What the Night Sings in social studies class and all eighth graders were read a chapter from the book in library class. Library media specialist Silvia Lilly arranged Ms. Stamper’s visit.

As she finished her visit with the BC students, Ms. Stamper left the eighth graders with an important question to think about:

“Would you rather be safe or would you rather be strong?” asked Stamper. “Keep in mind that one is not a guarantee. The other is one you make a choice about.”

Thank you to Ms. Stamper for a memorable visit!

Check out more photos of Vesper Stamper’s visit to the school on the BCMS Library Media Center page where you can also view a short video of student Will Lauricella who performed three piano selections from Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) at the beginning of the assembly. It is some of the same music that accompanies the audiobook to What the Night Sings.