Kacer, Kathy 1954–

views updated

Kacer, Kathy 1954–

PERSONAL:

Born September 6, 1954, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Arthur and Gabriela Kacer; married Ian Epstein (a lawyer), December 19, 1981; children: Gabi Epstein, Jake Epstein. Education: University of Toronto, B.Sc., 1976; University of New Brunswick, M.A., 1978. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Toronto, Ontario, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

The Griffin Centre (children's mental health center), Toronto, Ontario, Canada, clinical director, 1989-95; consultant in organizational development to social service agencies and Canadian government, 1995-99; writer, 1996—.

MEMBER:

International Board on Books for Young People (member of executive committee), Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers (recording secretary, 2001-03; chair of programs, 2003-05), Writers Union of Canada.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People shortlist, and Reader's Choice Award, Canadian Children's Book Center, both 1999, Silver Birch Award, Ontario Library Association, and Canadian Jewish Book Award in young-adult-fiction category, both 2000, Hackmatack Children's Choice Award, Maritime Library Association, 2001, and Red Cedar Book Award shortlist, Young Readers' Choice Association of British Columbia, 2002, all for The Secret of Gabi's Dresser; Sydney Taylor Book Award honorable mention, American Association of Jewish Libraries, 2001, Book of the Year shortlist, Canadian Library Association, and Red Maple Award, both 2002, all for Clara's War; Book of the Year shortlist, Canadian Library Association, 2004, and Red Cedar Book Award shortlist, 2006, both for The Night Spies; Sydney Taylor Book Award honorable mention, and Norma Fleck Award shortlist for Canadian children's nonfiction, both 2005, both for The Underground Reporters; Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children Nonfiction shortlist, 2006, Silver Birch Award shortlist, 2007, and Hackmatack Children's Choice Award nomination, Maritime Library Association, 2008, all for Hiding Edith.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

The Secret of Gabi's Dresser (also see below), Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.

Clara's War, Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

The Night Spies, Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

The Underground Reporters, Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

Hiding Edith: A True Story, Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2006.

"OUR CANADIAN GIRL" SERIES

Margit, Book One: Home Free, Penguin Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

Margit, Book Two: A Bit of Love and a Bit of Luck, Penguin Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2005.

Margit, Book Three: Open Your Doors, Penguin Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2006.

Margit, Book Four: A Friend in Need, Penguin Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2007.

OTHER

The Secret of Gabi's Dresser (play; based on the author's novel), first produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2004.

SIDELIGHTS:

Kathy Kacer is an award-winning Canadian author of books for children and young adults. Kacer, whose European-born mother lived through World War II by hiding from Nazi soldiers and whose father survived the concentration camps, writes historical fiction and nonfiction about the Holocaust. "Their stories of survival were an inspiration to me as I was growing up," she remarked on her Web site, reflecting on her parents' experiences. "As an adult, I was determined to write their stories down and pass them on to young readers."

Kacer's first book for children, The Secret of Gabi's Dresser, is a first-person fictionalized account of Kacer's mother's escape from the Nazis in Slovakia during World War II. Starting in 1940, the story traces the encroaching Nazification of the country that would later become the Czech Republic, where ten-year-old Gabi and her family face increasing restrictions on their freedoms. In 1943, when the Nazis come to take her away, thirteen-year-old Gabi hides in a dresser while her mother manages to distract the soldiers from the hiding place, saving her daughter's life so that they both can go into hiding until the end of the war. Although Kacer's use of a child-narrator makes her rendering of some aspects of the story awkward, according to Canadian Children's Literature critic Marjorie Gann, the story itself is undeniably "gripping," the critic allowed. Writing in Quill & Quire, Patty Lawlor found more to like, writing that Kacer successfully renders "a reader-friendly, simply-told story about a Jewish girl during the Second World War." Lawlor also recommended the book for children not yet ready for Anne Frank's diary.

Kacer followed The Secret of Gabi's Dresser with Clara's War, offering readers another view of the Holocaust and the effect the Nazi plan for the Jews had on a family in Czechoslovakia. As before, Kacer draws upon historical events for the basis of her fictional story. In Clara's War, thirteen-year-old Clara is a less-fortunate girl than Gabi for she and her family have been captured by the Nazis and transported to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp that acts as a way-station before the final destination of Auschwitz. There, amazingly, a children's opera was secretly staged and performed fifty times between 1943 and liberation in 1945, according to Jeffrey Canton in Quill & Quire. Thus, along with the terror and suffering that are part of every day life for young Clara, there is also schoolwork, growing friendships, and participation in an artistic endeavor. While the novel is explicit about the horrors of camp life, Kacer's focus on this artistic venture transforms her novel into "a story of hope, courage, and humanity in the face of overwhelming suffering and adversity," Canton asserted. Lynne Remick also commented favorably on the novel in Kliatt, noting that Kacer's inclusion of historical photographs and information about child survivors of the death camp at the book's end. As a collection of experiences representing those of camp survivors, Clara's "story offers enlightenment and still allows the reader to grasp some hope for humanity and its future," Remick concluded.

In The Night Spies, a second work based on the wartime experiences of Kacer's mother, fourteen-year-old Gabi finds shelter in the barn of a kindly Czech farmer. Gabi is joined by her cousin, Max, whose parents were killed by Nazi soldiers and who has endured a long hike to locate the rest of his family. Tired of the cramped, dirty conditions in the barn and feeling isolated and restless, the youngsters sneak out after dark and assist a group of partisans by acting as scouts and spying on the Nazis. According to School Library Journal contributor Renee Steinberg, "there is appeal in Kacer's oft-exciting story and its focused depiction of the drudgery and risks faced by the Jews" and anyone who helped them. In Booklist Hazel Rochman noted that Kacer writes without sentiment, describing The Night Spies, as "upbeat; it is also realistic about the horror that haunts the survivors."

The Underground Reporters recounts the true story of a group of Jewish youngsters who rebelled against Nazi repression. Forced to adhere to strict laws that limited their freedoms, the children of Budejovice, Czechoslovakia, produced a community newspaper called Klepy (Czech for "gossip"), which contained stories, poems, jokes, and drawings. Much of the story is told through the reminiscences of John Freund, one of few survivors, who describes Klepy's origins as well as life in Ther- esienstadt, the concentration camp to which the Jews of Budejovice were transported. "The writing … is captivating," observed Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper, and Kacer's biographical portraits "bring a sense of intrigue and thoughtful admiration for these brave, defiant teens," noted a critic in Kirkus Reviews. In the words of Resource Links contributor Maria Forte, The Underground Reporters "not only represents how the human spirit can triumph in adversity but also how human creativity is used time and time again to surmount what is cruel, inhumane and insupportable."

Kacer recounts the tale of Edith Schwalb, an Austrian teen fleeing the Nazis, in Hiding Edith: A True Story. During World War II the Jewish Scouts of France funded a safe house for Jewish refugee children in the French village of Moissac; the townspeople willingly cooperated with the effort, which saved hundreds of lives. Edith, who was separated from her parents and sister at age eleven, arrived in Moissac in 1943 and remained there for several months before being moves on to other safe hiding places. Writing in Resource Links, Julia Cox remarked that the author "paints a powerful picture of Edith's many losses—home, possessions, security, family life, and even her name when she is forced to pose as a Catholic orphan. But the book offers an equally strong impression of Edith's courage, strong will to survive and determination to remember who she is." Maureen Griffin, reviewing Hiding Edith in Kliatt, similarly noted that "the reader learns of her fear, loneliness, courage, resourcefulness and growing maturity."

Kacer is also the author of Margit, Book One: Home Free, the first of four titles she has written for Penguin Canada's "Our Canadian Girl" series. The author chronicles the experiences of Margit, a young Czech Jew who escapes to Canada while World War II is still raging in Europe. "Many of Margit's experiences of arriving in a strange country were taken from the experiences of my parents when they came here," Kacer stated in an online interview for the Our Canadian Girl Web site. She added, "I am … so grateful that they were amongst the lucky ones who survived to pass their stories on to me."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, January 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of The Night Spies, p. 857; February 15, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of The Underground Reporters, p. 1076; December 1, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of Hiding Edith: A True Story, p. 40.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 2004, Susan Merskey, review of The Underground Reporters, p. 552; 2005, Susan Merskey, review of Margit, Book Two: A Bit of Love and a Bit of Luck, p. 497.

Canadian Children's Literature, fall, 1999, Marjorie Gann, review of The Secret of Gabi's Dresser, pp. 167-173.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2005, review of The Underground Reporters, p. 122; October 15, 2006, review of Hiding Edith, p. 1073.

Kliatt, November, 2001, Lynne Remick, review of Clara's War, p. 16; November, 2006, Maureen Griffin, review of Hiding Edith, p. 36.

Quill & Quire, July, 1999, Patty Lawlor, review of The Secret of Gabi's Dresser, p. 49; May, 2001, Jeffrey Canton, review of Clara's War, p. 34.

Resource Links, April, 2005, Maria Forte, review of The Underground Reporters, p. 42; June, 2005, Victoria Pennell, review of Margit, Book Two, p. 15; October, 2006, Julia Cox, review of Hiding Edith, p. 24.

School Library Journal, February, 2002, Paula J. LaRue, review of Clara's War, p. 134; March, 2004, Renee Steinberg, review of The Night Spies, p. 214; August, 2005, Susan Scheps, review of The Underground Reporters, p. 145; December, 2006, Heidi Estrin, review of Hiding Edith, p. 164.

Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 2005, Sherry York, review of The Underground Reporters, p. 40.

ONLINE

Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers Web site,http://www.canscaip.org/ (October 31, 2007), "Kathy Kacer."

Our Canadian Girl Web site,http://www.ourcanadiangirl.ca/ (October 31, 2007), interview with Kacer.