Author of 'Is It Night or Day' to Visit Norton Middle School

  • April 8, 2011
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From the Norton, MA “Patch:”

Fern Schumer Chapman to discuss book themes, answer questions.

The first long train trip I ever took in Germany was my last. Now I see that it was a funeral procession. The mourners traveling with me were my father, my mother, and Mina, a Christian girl who lived with my family and was as dear to me as my big sister, Betty. We were burying my childhood.

So begins the book, “Is It Night or Day?” by Fern Schumer Chapman, that students in Norton Middle School have been reading in anticipation of a visit by the author Thursday, April 28.

A teacher had jus finished reading Chapman’s book and chased principal Michael O’Rourke down the hall.

“He [O’Rourke] told me that, when he saw the teacher running after him, he thought there ‘was a fire in the bathroom,’” Chapman recalled. “Actually, the teacher wanted to ask if the school might consider my book for an all-school reads program and invite me to speak in the spring. I am honored to have this opportunity.”

Chapman’s book is inspired by her own mother’s experiences as one of the 1,200 children rescued from the Holocaust by Americans as part of the One Thousand Children project prior to and throughout the U.S. military involvement in World War II. Quakers, Lutherans and Jewish groups quietly organized and sent 10 children at a time to America on cruise ships. The program brought over 100 children a year between 1934 and 1945.

“My mother [Edith] suffered terribly as a child,” Chapman said. “Before they were killed by the Nazis, my grandparents made the most painful choice any parent could face. They decided to send my mother, who was only 12 years old, to live with relatives in America. She came to this country alone. These experiences deeply defined her.”

The book portrays Edith’s experiences traveling to America where she is faced with a new language, large cities and labels, such as greenhorn, enemy alien and Jew.

Since writing “Is It Night or Day?” and her other book “Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust: A Mother-Daughter Journey to Reclaim the Past,” Chapman feels like she now truly understands her mother, who never talked about her experiences.

“Her past was like a busy intersection that I was to avoid at all costs,” Chapman said. “This created a wedge in our relationship because I felt she was withholding important personal information from me and she felt she was protecting me from her painful past.”

With Edith opening up to Chapman, other people can now understand as well.

“Now, that her story is told, she seems to feel a sense of relief,” Chapman said. “She feels her suffering was not in vain.

“My mother’s story is universal and it raises important issues of identity, prejudice, and assimilation. It sheds light on the story of becoming an American, and I believe each of us can benefit from learning about that experience. Second, I wanted to show how a cataclysmic event such as World War II reaches beyond its participants and continues to shape future generations.”

Though times have changed and WWII is not something today’s children have to worry about, they are fascinated with Edith’s experience since they are close to her age.

“They imagine what it would be like to be in my mother’s shoes,” Chapman said. They come away with more empathy for some of their classmates who are immigrants or for those who are unlike themselves. In addition, they begin to understand that their parents’ experiences define both their parents and themselves.”

During the day, Chapman will speak to students during various assemblies and answer their questions about the book and its themes. She will also address the public in the Splaine Auditorium at Norton Middle School 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Chapman, is a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Forbes. For more information, visit http://fernschumercha.wpengine.com.

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