Reader’s Questions (I)

Daniel and I were delighted last week to receive a kind and interesting letter. It was sent by a young reader who liked “A Whale in Paris” enough to thank us for having written the book. She also asked a few questions about how and why we wrote this novel.

Today I’m sharing my answers and the questions from Evelyn B (Denver, Colorado) with her permission and my gratitude.

Why did you choose to write about World War 2?

Because we think it’s important for young people (like you!) to know about what happened. And because we wanted to know more about France during that time. I was born and raised in the Netherlands and learned a lot about World War 2 at school and from my grandparents and stepfather, who all survived the war. They spoke to me about air raids, about hiding from the Nazis, about hunger and fear. But most of what I know took place in the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. My husband and I wanted to learn about Paris during the occupation, so we chose to write about it, because that would require us to do research.

What made you think of putting a whale in Paris?

Our story began with the whale. Do you know those lazy Sunday mornings, when it rains and rains and you’re in bed or on the couch and really don’t want to get dressed, because the world out there is just cold and wet? Well, there are a lot of Sundays like that in the winter in Paris, and sometimes my husband and I just lay on our backs, listening to the rain and making up stories. In one of them, there was a lost whale (wrapped up in a sheet) making funny sounds, and a girl who befriends him and helps him to swim back to the sea. That was the kernel of our book. It took years of talking about that girl and her whale, before we actually believed we had a story that could become a novel.

Did you have to learn about whales to write the book? What did you have to do to learn what kinds of sounds Franklin would make?

We did indeed do research on whales, too, and were fascinated by what we learned. Whales use sounds for all types of communication. We now know that whales can sing to each other and that they use click sounds to identity one single whale to other whales in the pod. A lot less was known in 1944, so Chantal was guessing more than knowing—she couldn’t read a book about it yet, like you and me. My husband and I listened to online recordings of what people call “whale vocalizations,” and our imagination did the rest. Chantal probably couldn’t really understand Franklin’s sounds, but she did understand that he was lonely, lost, and homesick, and that he needed help.

What is your favorite food?

That really depends on the time of day and my mood. I often love the simplest things. Avocados, walnuts, blueberries, artichokes, mangos, zucchinis, dark chocolate, and salmon—I really do love salmon, smoked, grilled, raw, or in a quiche!