Another Source of Inspiration: Kathleen Stokker
I’ve been working on the bibliography for Odin’s Promise. It will include several books for young readers featuring the historic conditions that shaped Mari’s and Odin’s story.
There will also be a surprisingly long list of resources. Aspects of this story have bounced around my head for several decades. Throughout that time I’ve read, made notes, and set aside books for later use. I was surprised, though, at the length list of the list of titles this effort generated. In much the same way as Number the Stars left unconscious footprints in my mind, the various stories and historic details in these resources did the same for me and my writing.
It was only last year that I stumbled across Kathleen Stokker’s scholarly book: FOLKLORE FIGHTS THE NAZIS- Humor in Occupied Norway, 1940-1945. It’s written in a scholarly style, perhaps as a dissertation. Even in that format it revealed personal insights and touching human elements by featuring photographs, journal entries, and other primary sources in the words of those who lived at that time.
Stokker’s work was published in 1995, so I’m surprised I didn’t find it earlier. Others have, though, since it was cited in two recent middle grade novels set in Norway during the occupation: The Klipfish Code, by Mary Casanova and Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus. I enjoyed both of these exciting and emotional stories, and noticed that they, too, incorporated fictional versions of incidents and historic anecdotes referenced in Stokker’s work.
I spent several hours using internet resources to learn more about Kathleen Stokker (link). The short version of her long and esteemed professional life is that she retired in 2012 as professor emeritus of Scandinavian Studies at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. She is the author of several text books on Norwegian language and other books revealing her encyclopedic knowledge of Norwegian culture and history. She was called on to apply that knowledge by providing historic background notes to a personal war journal reissued in 2011: And Then Came the Liberators by Norwegian illustrator Albert Jaern. I watched a video of her participation in a lengthy presentation about this book, and it’s one of the few times that internet trawling did not feel like a time-waster.
I was treating today’s project as another detail to attend to, something on my to-do list that needed completion. Instead I was reminded of the ways in which the things we read embed themselves in our minds, weave themselves through our own thoughts, and become a part of who we are and what we do. And, for about an hour, I felt I was able to “meet” Kathleen Stokker and “virtually” witness her energetic and comprehensive grasp of Norway’s history, culture, and people.
Perhaps one day I’ll be able to meet her in person and thank her for sharing that with the rest of us.