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Maximillian Jones on The Boy Behind the Wall and historical books for teens

The Boy Behind the Wall. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The Murderer's Ape. Book covers.

 

This month our Macaw subscribers have chosen between two incredibly moving and thought-provoking books that explore the long-term impact of conflict on individuals and their families. Me, In Between tells the story of refugee Madina, whose family have fled war to seek asylum in Germany. It’s an authentic and sensitive depiction of a harrowing contemporary reality for so many young people. In our second book of the month, The Boy Behind the Wall, a collaborative team of writers explore life on either side of the Berlin wall in the 1960s. It’s a gripping thriller and a real page-turner. Here, the author team behind the book tell us all about what inspired the book and which other historical books they would recommend you read next.

What prompted you to write The Boy Behind the Wall? 

We were wondering how something as terrible and dark as the holocaust could inspire such great fiction for children, like The Book Thief or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. If the holocaust could do this, why not the Cold War, in particular the pre-dystopian world of one day having a wall appear right through the middle of your city? That inspired a trip to Berlin and the Stasi Museum, then the rest fell into place. 

Are any of the characters or their experiences inspired by real people or events? 

After our visit to the Stasi Museum where we saw silly things like an overcoat with a badly hidden camera and terrible things, like a torture chamber in their jail cells, we found a book with a photo of a schoolboy sending up a balloon with a note attached to it. That inspired our story. What if a boy sent up a balloon with a note and it was shot down by the border guard on the wall and it was returned the next week with a plea for help? What would you do? 

What research did you do while you were writing the book and did you discover anything that surprised you? 

We read lots of books and watched films to understand what the real people who lives in Berlin, on either side of the wall, experienced. The most amazing thing we learned was that someone really did build a tunnel under the wall, shortly after it was built, to try and help people escape! People were so brave even though it was a scary time.  

Who do you relate to more, Harry or Jakob, and why? 

There’s something of all of us in both of the boys. I think most readers will be able to relate to them both, even though they are so different. We can all be timid and afraid as well as bold and brave, and chirpy as well as grumpy! And at that age, with everything so new to you anyway, it’s easy to feel like you don’t quite belong – as both boys do.  

Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Harry and Jakob? 

I can say it’s not what you might think! You’ll be able to find out more about what happens to them in the next book.  

Why did you choose to write books for this age group? 

The best children’s books, and some of the best ever books, are written for this age group. It’s such an interesting age, when children are finding out so much about the world and themselves, and everything is an adventure. 

Can you tell us about how your collaborative writing process works? 

We talk a lot! About our ideas and stories we love and things that interest us, and then we work really hard to craft that into a story that we’re all proud that other people will love. Everyone brings something unique to the table.  

What other books with historical settings would you recommend our subscribers read next? 

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Book Thief, and an amazing book called The Murderer's Ape which is set in 1920s Portugal and India! It’s so original.  

Copies of our The Boy Behind the Wall pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase here. Grab a copy while stocks last!

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