Tulips for Breakfast by Catherine Bauer
Q&A with Catherine Bauer for Paperbark Words by Joy Lawn
Thank you for speaking to Joy in Books at PaperbarkWords, Catherine!
You have several interesting titles based around the history of war. How is your latest novel, Tulips for Breakfast different from some of your other books?
Hi Joy and thanks for your interest in my stories and for the opportunity to share them with your audience.
My other two war-themed stories are aimed at a younger audience. Dreaming Soldiers is a beautifully illustrated picture book and is about a friendship between two young Australian boys who grow up side-by-side and go off to war together. One of the boys – Jimmy, is Aboriginal and it’s particularly a look through his eyes at his participation and the aftermath. The other one Len Waters: Boundless and Born to Fly is about Australia’s first Aboriginal fighter pilot. It’s more of an educational book with lots of cultural and military history included alongside Len’s story.
My novel is aimed at an older audience and while it’s also based in fact, there’s a lot more room for imagination – but like the other two stories, it’s also based on a lot of research.
Your main character, young Jewish girl Adelena, navigates her survival through WW2’s Nazi persecution, much of that time spent in Hiding. What can you tell us about the spirit of your character and the likeness of the real Adelena – Hannah Goslar-Pick?
My character Adelena (aka Lena) is based on Anne’s best friend Hannah Goslar. Anne and Hannah went to the same kindergarten, primary school and later, the Jewish Lyceum.
Like my characters, Anne and Hannah shared secrets, hung out together and did all the usual childhood activities of the time. When the Nazis arrived in the Netherlands they shared their fears of what this would mean for them and their families.
Similar to my novel, when Hannah and another friend went to visit Anne one day and a neighbour told them the Franks had left for Switzerland, Hannah had no idea the family was hiding in a building in the Amsterdam.
In June 1942, Anne wrote in her now famous diary that Hannah “is a bit on the strange side…She’s usually shy — outspoken at home but reserved around other people.”
Anne also wrote about Hannah, “she blabs whatever you tell her to her mother. But she says what she thinks, and lately I’ve come to appreciate her a great deal.’’
Perhaps apart from the blabber-mouthing, I related to Anne’s description of Hannah and especially about her shyness around others particularly. I was also like that as a child too and these shared characteristics made it easier to write about Lena and to think like Lena. I could stand in her shoes and sort of channel what she must have been thinking and feeling.
Through your research with Hannah (Hanneli), what did you learn of the friendship between herself and Anne Frank?
They were very close, but where Hannah was a lot more shy and uncertain, Anne was bolder, more outspoken and daring – characteristics that sometimes attracted criticism – especially from her elders. Like all friends, while they were close, there were times they also got on one another’s nerves, when their different personalities came into conflict.
What other people, organisations and publications did you connect with when writing Tulips for Breakfast? What was the most interesting and/or challenging piece of history you uncovered?
I connected with Jewish museums – here in Australia, the US and in Israel. I watched documentaries, read widely and reached out to those with lived experience of the times – now elderly men and women living in Australia, the US and in the case of Hannah, in Jerusalem.
I also spoke with carers, working in Jewish elder homes. It was so interesting to know that many aged care homes working with older Jewish clients don’t display the colour yellow, they don’t wear name tags and so on, as these things are triggering. In some cases, in those with dementia for example, they revert to old habits such as hoarding or hiding food.
One thing that surprised me was that many former hidden children – now elderly men and women – said that reconnecting with their parents and families after the war was often very difficult for them. Not only had time passed, they had changed during their time apart – grown up and developed their own ideas and personalities. Also, for many they couldn’t reconcile the fact their parents had ‘given them up’ – even though it was done in the hope their children would survive where they, as adults, may not. This shattering of relationships was lifelong for many children who were never able to reform family bonds. I found this sad and surprising, but on reflection understand that the trauma of separation makes the idea a lot more feasible.
With the dark themes of war, loss and trauma, how have you ensured a sense of warmth and hope through your story?
I think that looking at things through the eyes of my own inner child and remembering the pleasure found in small things helped. Things like pets, people, sights, sounds, smells and happy memories. I think children seem to always find that spark of hope no matter how grim a situation – they think ‘I have shelter, someone looking out for me, the basics – there’s a chance that tomorrow will be better’.
Please explain a little about the Hunger Winter, and how this relates to the title of the novel.
This was the term that was applied to the period at the end of the WWII in the Netherlands. It wasn’t used at the time. It refers to the final winter of the war (1944/45) a time of famine, lack of fuel and other crucial supplies to The Netherlands. The Germans blockaded deliveries to essential items to the Netherlands as a tactic to punish the population.
Not only was it winter – it was an especially harsh winter. Germany blockaded food and other supplies to The Netherlands as punishment for the Dutch government’s support of the Allies. Thousands of Dutch people starved to death during this time, people moved into a single room of their homes and tried their best to remain warm with what little fuel they could scrounge – including wood from tram tracks in some cases and pieces of household furniture. Lack of food saw people turn to food items normally fed to farm animals – even roots and tulip bulbs. Recipes were passed around for soups and bread made from bulbs and beets, for example – and this fact is what sparked the novel’s title.
How would you recommend teachers (and parents) approach this book and its themes when offering the reading to their students?
Teaching and discussions should begin with WWII and what sparked the war including Hitler’s rise to power and anti-Semitic political views. This will lead to discussions around the Holocaust and require an understanding of the sensitivities and complexity of this time and the fact that the ripples continue across the generations.
Sharing the reasons for the war without making sweeping generalisations is important for students and young readers to understand the time which was confusing and frightening for everyone living in Europe at the time.
There is nothing like asking students to tap into their own feelings, or experiences of isolation and uncertainty. The recent COVID lockdown experience for example, saw us all having to abide by new rules to stay safe and healthy. Our movements were curtailed and lifestyles changed dramatically.
How would they manage if they were singled and separated from the rest of the community, from friends and family, not nothing if this would go on for a day, a week or for years?
What kinds of responses have you received so far from your audience?
I’ve been very touched by the feedback received so far – some readers have described the story as ‘heart breaking’, ‘funny’ and ‘suspenseful’. One adult reader said she could relate to the sense of isolation that resonates through the story. She said the difficulties that Lena had reconnecting with her family after her period in hiding was something she related to in reconnecting with others after Covid lockdown. It wasn’t something I expected. Another said it was a reminder that power can go to the heads of political leaders’ heads – a comparison to a former US President perhaps?
Will there be a follow up to Tulips for Breakfast? What can you share about that?
I have been slowly working on a follow-up that sees Adelena and her family migrate to Australia for a new start – just as many Europeans did in that late 1940s and early 1950s.
How can readers contact you?
Reach out via my author Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/CatherineBauerAuthor/ or my Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/catherinebaueraus/
Thank you for your participation, Catherine!