Congratulations to the children who sent in such great questions for We are Wolves author Katrina Nannestad.
Thanks to you we know that Katrina cried but also felt happy while writing her book about the “wolfskinder” — young German children forced to survive alone, sometimes for years, after the Russian army invaded East Prussia at the end of World War II.
We also know she loves kangaroos and escaping into the world she is creating as she writes.
Here are Katrina’s answers to our top 10 questions:
Tayla: I was wondering how this made you feel when you were writing the story? As it is so scary to think of being lost from your parents in such a war-torn time, it would have been emotional as it made me feel very sad in just the little bit I read, but also that they were so strong.
Katrina: My characters become very real to me when I’m writing a story. We Are Wolves is set during a terrible time in history and Liesl, Otto and Mia did suffer, so there were times when I felt sad. I cried more than once. But I also had many times where I felt happy. Mia made me smile when she rubbed food in her hair or stuck it down her ear. Otto made me laugh when he was impulsive or said funny things. And I felt happy when the Wolf children met people who showed them great kindness.
Martina: When writing We Are Wolves was there ever a time when you were concerned that parents would be put off by the point of view of the characters and them saying things like “our beloved Hitler” and if children would read it at all?
Katrina: Sometimes, if we are going to make a story realistic, we need to have some of our characters saying, believing, and doing things that we don’t agree with. But, at the same time, I think it’s important to be clear that the author and some of the key characters do not agree. In the case of Hitler, I tried to do this very early on in the story in two ways. Firstly, the opening line is, ‘Hitler is a toad!’ so we know that Otto Wolf is not a Hitler fan. And on the following pages, we become aware that Opa also thinks Hitler is no good, because he snorts and he’s turned Hitler’s portrait to the wall. There are even hints that the other adults dislike Hitler but are just scared to say it out loud. I am hoping that parents will understand and be happy to let their children read my book. Perhaps parents could read the book together with their children and discuss the things that are said and done as the story goes along.
Oscar: Why did you decide to change your take on genres from Lottie Perkins: Movie Star to a World War II style of book?
Katrina: I didn’t really plan to change genres. I love writing humour, action, adventure, mystery – light stories that make people smile or even laugh out loud. I stumbled across some articles about the wolfskinder, was fascinated, mentioned the stories to my publisher and next thing I was planning a rather serious historical novel. I found the story interesting to write, but also tricky. It’s a big change for me and I was worried that I might not get the balance between the serious issues and the joyful moments right.
Ava: What is your favourite animal (is it wolves) and why?
Katrina: I love kangaroos. We have a few mobs that live around our property and I think they are pretty and graceful. The joeys are also so incredibly cute, and very silly at times. A few weeks ago, one of the joeys was chasing magpies and doing circle work around the paddock. Wolves scare me!
Finn: Does the book We Are Wolves describe wolf packs as protective and caring (eg. The Jungle Book) or as monsters?
Katrina: There aren’t any wolves in my book. It’s called We Are Wolves because the children end up living on their own in the forest like wild animals – like wolves. They need to be like wolves to survive. Thankfully, they don’t meet any real wolves, although there are many other dangers.
Sethmi: Why do you enjoy writing?
Katrina: I love escaping into the world of my story. When I’m writing, my house and family disappear and I only see and feel the world I am creating. I love that I can create whole new characters and places and I’m in total control of them. This makes me feel quite powerful! And I love playing with words.
Max: Do you think you will write a sequel?
Katrina: I don’t plan to. I would like the Wolf children to carry on with their own lives, without me. If I write another novel about this time in history, I think it will be about a child or children from another country. I think it’s interesting to explore different points of view.
Chloe: How did you go about making the information you found simpler and more appropriate for children?
Katrina: It was tricky, because I was telling a story about a tragic period in history and there were many things that were not appropriate for sharing with children. Telling my story from 11-year-old Liesl’s point of view really helped me to keep the details under control. If Liesl was narrating, I could only describe what she saw and understood. She could only be in one place at a time, which meant that I could plan her path so that she avoided encountering anything too nasty. I also made sure that Liesl, Otto and Mia met kind and generous people along the way who protected and loved them. I did not want the story to become too dark. I wanted to make it a story of hope and kindness and love.
Louis: What were you looking for when you found out about the wolf children?
Katrina: I was searching for some stories about Denmark during World War II. I had heard some lovely stories about their King, Christian X, and knew that the Danes had managed to get most of their Jewish citizens to safety before the Nazis rounded them up and took them away. It’s always good to read about kind people!
Felix: If I had to flee my own home the few items I would bring would be: 1) something extremely warm; 2) some sort of knife so I could get my own food and protect myself; 3) a small amount of food that won’t go off for a while; 4) some water and a bag to carry all my stuff in. What would you bring?
Katrina: I think they’re great choices you’ve made. I would take a backpack filled with all the chocolate and nuts I have in the house, water, my little first aid kit, a spoon, a pocket knife, my passport and Panadol. (I’d hate to have a broken bone or the flu and have nothing to help with the pain!) I’d also take a big woollen blanket and any jewellery that I might be able to trade for food later on.
WE ARE WOLVES
Sometimes it’s good to be wild.
Sometimes you have to be wild.
When the Russian army marches into East Prussia at the end of the war, the Wolf family must flee. Liesl, Otto and their baby sister Mia find themselves lost and alone, in a blizzard, in the middle of a war zone. Liesl has promised Mama that she will keep her brother and sister safe.
But sometimes, to survive, you have to do bad things. Dangerous things. Wild things.
Sometimes to survive, you must become a wolf.
Best-selling author Katrina Nannestad returns with her most masterful novel yet — a book to crack open your heart, a book to light you up inside, a book to love.
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We Are Wolves
Identity, culture and differing viewpoints
Writers choose the context and setting of a book very carefully because it allows them to explore how conflict, culture and history shape individual identity and life experience.
The particular context and setting for this story allows readers to investigate and explain differing viewpoints about the world, cultures, individual people and concerns.
This story allows readers to explore the interconnectedness of country and place, people, identity and culture.
It is set during World War II in East Prussia at the end of Germany’s involvement in the war.
- Which countries are included in the story?
- What are the divisions between the nations?
- What potential moral dilemmas does this create for children caught in the transition between one country losing a war and another country winning it?
- Why is the setting and time period significant?
- What differing viewpoints about the world, cultures, individual people and concerns, can be explored in this setting? How?
- Why do readers like reading about stories from this period of time?
- What values do people have in common?
Think about your identity and yourself. Draw a mind map, with yourself at the centre, to map your own identity. Include what you think about your:
- Likes and dislikes
- Roles in the family, outside of the family
- Abilities and talents
- Language and religion or spirituality
- Friends, groups and relationships
- Local, regional, national and global identity
- How much of your identity is connected to your family, country, time and place?
Resilience and the power of storytelling
A key theme of this text is the power of stories and resilience. Humans have been creating and telling stories since humanity began. We seem to have a deep need to tell stories. It is part of who we are. Stories give people a sense of identity and belonging, communicate knowledge and wisdom and help us regulate our feelings and emotions. Stories inspire us and remind us who we are.
While you read, think about the power of the stories Liesl and her siblings and parents tell each other.
- Why are they important?
- How do the stories help get them through tough times?
- What are favourite stories from your family?
- Why do you like hearing them again and again?
- How do the stories make you feel and why?
In small groups, pairs or individually, prepare a multimodal presentation about your own experience or the experience of your family. Each student/group should read/tell/present (podcast or multimedia) a short story and select music and/or images to accompany the presentation. Explain why the story is important.
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