My first new book, Passover: Festival of Freedom, looks at the history of Passover. I’ve always been interested in the Holocaust (my mom is a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp), and I wanted to look at what Passover means to Holocaust survivors, and their memories of Passover because tragedy struck their lives. This book allowed me to explore that. My second book, Leggings Revolt, is about a group of students who stand up to their school administration in order to protest sexist rules. Lastly, Forensics Squad Unleashed is about a group of kids enrolled in a special summer camp that teaches them about forensics. The kids are supposed to solve a fake case, but they end up getting involved in a real one– and they want to solve that one too!
What was the catalyst for your stories?
For Passover, Sarah Harvey, one of my editors at Orca, asked me if I was interested in writing about Passover. I told her that though I am Jewish, we had never celebrated the holiday as a family. But I was interested in learning about the holiday — and writing the book led me to start celebrating Passover in my own home. The idea for Leggings Revolt began when I heard about students at a Montreal area school who had organized a protest against their school’s dress code. Forensics Squad Unleashed came about when a former student (to whom the book is dedicated) told me about a University of Toronto summer camp that introduces kids to forensics. My former student had worked as a counselor at the camp. And I got permission to attend the camp in the summer of 2014. I even wrote a story about the camp for Maclean’s Magazine.
In your opinion, what makes a compelling story?
I think if the characters are interesting and they feel real, the story will be compelling!
Do your books have a niche or specialty market?
I hope that Passover will interest everyone who wants to know more about the holiday. I also think the inclusion of stories from Holocaust survivors will appeal to many readers. These survivors are quite old, and I think young people (and older ones too) realize that it is important for us to hear their stories, so we can pass them on. Leggings Revolt should appeal to the many kids who wonder about the arbitrariness of rules and wonder what they should do if a rule feels wrong or unfair. Forensics Squad Unleashed is aimed at kids who are interested in solving crimes!
Do you gravitate toward a certain genre or type of writing?
I love all writing! I write for the local newspaper here in Montreal. I write three pages in my diary every morning. I love making up stories for kids, but working on Passover showed me that I also enjoy writing non-fiction for kids, especially when I get to interview people to learn their stories. I am a very snoopy person — kind of like a detective myself!!
I hope Passover will not only lead to conversations about the meaning of the holiday, but also about what it means to be free. There are still many people in the world who are not free and who do not have the privileges that we do. I hope Leggings Revolt will get kids talking about rules and justice, and why it is important to take a stand in the face of injustice. Lastly, I hope Forensics Squad Unleashed will get young people to think about problem-solving in a new way. It’s all about clues, not jumping to conclusions and thinking analytically.
Tell us a little known or interesting fact about yourself.
I have the largest collection of Alice in Wonderland stuff (books, knickknacks, T-shirts) in the province of Quebec. And guess what? My daughter (Alicia) is named after Alice. I have read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland more than 300 times!
Monique Polak has written many novels for young adults, including her historical novel, What World Is Left, which won the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. In addition to writing award-winning books for youth, Monique Polak teaches English and Humanities at Marianopolis College in Montreal, Quebec, and also works as a freelance journalist. For more information visit www.moniquepolak.com.