It is my huge honor and delight to host Newbery Honor award winner, Margi Preus (Heart of a Samurai). Margi and I clearly share a passion for historical fiction, and we share some wonderful mutual friends (talking about you, Mary Casanova!) In the pandemic, I somehow missed Margi’s latest novel, Village of Scoundrels (Harry N. Abrams/Amulet Books), which tells the story of French villagers who banded together to make life difficult for the Nazis. Some of said villagers were children! So I ordered a copy and got to reading, right around the holidays. This amazing and powerful story is brought fully to life on the page, and will empower readers to be “scoundrels” in their own ways.
We write for all kinds of reasons—to explore something we wonder about, to express something that can’t be expressed any other way, and sometimes—I have found—writing can be a form of self-rescue. So the writing of Village of Scoundrels (Amulet Books) was for me.
At the start of 2017 I had a contract for a novel but was feeling so despondent about the recent election and the state of humanity that I didn’t know what I could possibly write about that would mean anything, or if I even wanted to try.
It occurred to me that if I was going to spend as much time with the characters as I do when I write a novel (a long time), then I wanted to—needed to—spend my time with good people doing the right thing. That was when I remembered a little snippet of a story I had run across several years earlier while researching Shadow on the Mountain (another WWII book based on a true story; © 2012).
The story concerned a village in France that sheltered Jewish children during WWII. Located on a high plateau, the town had no police force of its own, but the gendarmes from the valley would sometimes come hunting for the Jewish children they knew were hiding there. When that happened, the villagers sent the children out into the forest to hide. After the gendarmes left, having found nothing, the village children would go out into the forest and sing a little song to let the hidden children know it was safe to come back.
Since I was writing about Norway at the time, not France, I tucked the story away, remembering it years later when I needed it most. These seemed like the kind of people I’d like to spend time with, and I went digging for more information. It turns out that the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon (the village on which my fictional village of scoundrels, “Les Lauzes,” is based) is fairly well documented. Although there are more books on the subject for adults than for young readers, notable exceptions include Hidden on the Mountain, by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix, a work of nonfiction about the children sheltered on the plateau, and the novel Greater than Angels by Carol Matas, inspired by the experiences of one of the rescued teens.
As for my story, I wanted to focus on the young people who were involved in the rescue effort—a forger, a people smuggler, a courier, and others—all teenagers at the time. I wove in the story of some of those who were rescued, and was lucky to be able to interview a few of the survivors, both rescuers and rescued. One of them, a by now very old Jewish man, said that the people of the village had restored his faith in humanity. By writing about them, they did the same for me. If you could use a little rescuing, or just a bit of an uplift, I invite you to visit the “Village of Scoundrels.”
Margi Preus is New York Times bestselling author of the Newbery Honor book Heart of a Samurai, the Minnesota Book Award winning West of the Moon, and several other books for young readers, including the Enchantment Lake Mystery Series, and two new titles in 2020, The Littlest Voyageur and Village of Scoundrels. Her books have landed on many “best of” lists, been honored as ALA/ALSC Notables, selected as an NPR Backseat Book Club pick, chosen for community reads, and translated into several languages.
When not writing, Margi enjoys traveling, speaking, and visiting schools all over the world. At home in Duluth, Minnesota, she likes to hike, ski, paddle, or sit quietly with a book in her lap.