Author Feature: Monique Polak

In 1945 thirteen-year-old Gwen and her classmates have been prisoners at the Weihsien Internment Camp in northern China for nearly three years. They are hungry and thirsty all the time. They miss their parents. The Japanese soldiers who run the camp force them to work every day, rain or shine. It’s enough to make even the most cheerful girl cry. To raise their spirits, their teacher, Miss E., one of their teachers, has them follow the Girl Guide code.

Yes, they are going to continue to do their schoolwork.

Yes, they are going to do good deeds.

Yes, they are going to earn new Girl Guide badges.

No, not all Japanese are brutes.

No, they are not all going to die.

They must not lose hope.

What inspired you to write The Taste of Rain? What was the catalyst for the story?

My editor Sarah Harvey phoned me one day and said, “Turn the radio on right now.” She was listening to “This American Life,” a public radio show—the show was about a Japanese internment camp in China during World War II. Children interned here were looked after by their teachers, who insisted on following the Girl Guide code as a way to help the kids survive and to buoy their spirits. Sarah said, “This needs to be your next book.” And I listened to her!

Did anything surprise you while writing this book?

Yes, I was surprised to learn about the complexity of cheerfulness. I am an unusually cheerful person. Working on this book made me realize the power of cheerfulness, of optimism, but it also made me aware that there is a darker side that often lurks underneath cheerfulness. Cheerfulness can be a way of avoiding reality—and that can be dangerous.

How would you describe your writing style in three words?

Honest. Direct. Powerful.

What was the most recent book you read?

I just finished Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. I read it in two days (for a work assignment). I loved it.

What question would you pose to readers of your book?

In what ways can a positive attitude help us in difficult situations? In what ways can a positive attitude in difficult situations make things worse?

Which other authors would you recommend to your readers?

Rina Singh—an Orca author who is talented, and also one of my best friends. 

Sarah N. Harvey—another Orca author, my editor, and a super writer. 

Heather Smith—I love everything she writes. Magical.

What types of conversations do you hope will come out of your book?

I hope this book will start conversations about the emotional costs of war, about how we treat others, about kindness, about how privileged those of us are to live in a time of peace in safe countries, how we must help others who are less privileged and how we need to look out for each other. And of course, the power of being part of a group and trying to make the world a better place.

Monique Polak is the author of over twenty novels for kids and young adults. She has also written two nonfiction books for kids (Passover: Festival of Freedom and I Am a Feminist: Reclaiming the F-Word in Turbulent Times) as well as a board book for toddlers (Passover Family). Monique teaches English literature, creative writing and humanities at Marianopolis College in Montreal.

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