We are so excited to welcome everyone back to another Saturday Spotlight!
Every month we hold one Spotlight where we feature one author and their upcoming release in a series of posts. For the month of March, we feel so privileged to welcome Jennifer Rosner to Stuck in Stacks to discuss her novel: The Yellow Bird Sings.
About The BookThe Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner
Published by Flatiron Books on March 3, 2020
In Poland, as World War II rages, a mother hides with her young daughter, a musical prodigy whose slightest sound may cost them their lives.
As Nazi soldiers round up the Jews in their town, Róża and her 5-year-old daughter, Shira, flee, seeking shelter in a neighbor’s barn. Hidden in the hayloft day and night, Shira struggles to stay still and quiet, as music pulses through her and the farmyard outside beckons. To soothe her daughter and pass the time, Róża tells her a story about a girl in an enchanted garden:
The girl is forbidden from making a sound, so the yellow bird sings. He sings whatever the girl composes in her head: high-pitched trills of piccolo; low-throated growls of contrabassoon. Music helps the flowers bloom.
In this make-believe world, Róża can shield Shira from the horrors that surround them. But the day comes when their haven is no longer safe, and Róża must make an impossible choice: whether to keep Shira by her side or give her the chance to survive apart.
Inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during World War II, Jennifer Rosner’s debut is a breathtaking novel about the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter. Beautiful and riveting, The Yellow Bird Sings is a testament to the triumph of hope—a whispered story, a bird’s song—in even the darkest of times.
About The Author
Jennifer Rosner is the author of If A Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard, a memoir about raising her deaf daughters in a hearing, speaking world. Her children’s book, The Mitten String, is a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable. Jennifer’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Massachusetts Review,The Forward, Good Housekeeping, and elsewhere. She lives in western Massachusetts with her family. The Yellow Bird Sings is her debut novel and is being published around the world.
Roza and Shira’s experiences are so moving and heartbreaking. Where did the inspiration come from?
Jennifer: At the heart of the story is a profound longing for closeness, and I have personal roots to this. As a child I longed for a steady closeness with my mother; but for various reasons my mother could be present to me only intermittently. When I became a mother myself, I was determined to be steadfastly attentive and bonded to my daughters (especially in light of what I’d longed for and missed). So, in a visceral way, I understood the basic need of both Shira and Roza to stay connected throughout.
You include a lot of Hebrew words and Jewish prayers in the book. What was your research process like?
Jennifer: I have familiarity (from my upbringing) with elementary Hebrew and Yiddish. My research for the novel took me to Poland (to a barn and a convent where Jewish children hid and to an area of forest where a Partisan unit camped) and also to Tel Aviv. I interviewed several “hidden children of the Holocaust,” read extensively, and consulted with historians, trackers, nuns, musicians, etc. (It takes a village!)
Without getting into too many spoilers, did you begin the project knowing the outcome of Roza and Shira’s story?
Jennifer: No, not at all. For a long time, I wrote only about Roza and Shira in the barn: what it was like to be buried under hay, to have to stay silent and still. Eventually, a plot took shape. (That said, I wrote out thirty whole years of this story but included only five in the finished novel (plus the one jump in time at the end)!)
The stories that Roza tells Shira while they are in hiding are so sweet. Were they inspired by other stories you have heard?
Jennifer: For the most part, I made up the stories myself. One—having to do with an invisible chain—comes from a story I learned about my deaf great great aunts, who tied strings from their wrists to their babies in the night, so that they’d feel a tug if their babies cried and they’d wake to care for them. (This features more in my memoir, If A Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard.)
Shira loves music so much. Do you share a similar love for music?
Jennifer: Yes, I do! I grew up steeped in music — my father practiced violin every day while I was growing up, and I trained to sing (opera). But neither of us were exceptional musicians; having a character who is a prodigy is different! I worked with a master class violinist to try to gain an understanding of her experience.
If readers want to learn more about the Jewish experience during WWII, what other books would you recommend they check out?
Jennifer: Two recent novels I’d recommend are: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly and The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton. In non-fiction, Martin Gilbert’s Atlas of the Holocaust is an incredible resource. On my website, I have a list of helpful sources: http://jennifer-rosner.com/the-yellow-bird-sings-novel-research-resources.html
What has been your experience publishing your debut novel? Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Jennifer: It has been a lot of work—a good many years—and it has been incredibly exciting! My advice to aspiring writers is to persevere! It takes patience, constancy, and faith. It’s best if you love the process, the work itself (which I really do).
Which authors inspire your writing? Anyone you would love to co-author a book with?
Jennifer: I am inspired by Anthony Doerr, Toni Morrison, Ocean Vuong - to name just a few.
Do you have any reading or writing quirks?
Jennifer: Well, lately I have taken to listening to audiobooks while jumping on a mini trampoline…
When you are not reading or writing what do you enjoy doing?
Jennifer: Spending time with family and friends, taking walks, seeing plays, singing.
Rapid Fire Questions
Coffee or tea?
Jennifer: Tea! (And also chocolate…)
Dogs or cats?
Favorite place to read?
Jennifer: In a hammock! (though this isn’t the most common occurrence…)
What types of books are in your reading wheelhouse?
Jennifer: Literary Fiction
What are some 2020 releases you are excited about?
Jennifer: Cleanness by Garth Greenwell; The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd; The Paris Hours by Alex George; The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett; The Resisters by Gish Jen…
Lastly, where can our readers learn more about you and Ashlords?
Jennifer: My website: www.jennifer-rosner.com
What About You?
Do you have questions for Jennifer? Leave them in the comments and make sure to preorder your copy of The Yellow Bird Sings wherever books are sold.