Interview with Stephanie Lowden, Author of Jingo Fever

Here is an interview with Stephanie Golightly Lowden, author of Jingo Fever, our newest Crickhollow Book for young readers.

Jingo Fever is a chapter book set in 1918 during World War I in a small town (Ashland, on Lake Superior) in northern Wisconsin. It deals with the effects of intolerance experienced by many German-Americans during the war. It’s a fascinating and little-known aspect of American history.

Unfortunately, there are modern-day counterparts. What happen when excessive patriotism at home gets out of hand during conflicts abroad? German Americans experienced much persecution during the First World War all over the U.S. . . . despite their citizenship and, for many families, the brave service of their young men in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Here are Stephanie’s comments on Jingo Fever.

Q: What caused you to write this book?

Many years ago my mother told me how, when she was a very young girl, German language books were burned during World War I. Her stories led me to research that time period. Ultimately, Adelle’s story was born. All of the incidents Adelle mentions in the story involving the persecution of German-Americans are true.

Q: Was this book based on a real incident in Ashland, Wisconsin?

Yes. I have taken some liberties with dates and events in this fictional story of a young girl growing up during the summer of 1918. But a real incident did take place in Ashland, Wisconsin, in which two German professors were tarred and feathered, in April 1918. I moved the date to the Fourth of July to serve my story, as I wanted the incident to take place during Adelle’s summer vacation.

Q: Was it something that was just going on in Ashland or was this widespread across the state and country?

Oh, yes, it was very widespread, not something special to Ashland. It was going on all over Wisconsin and the country.

Even in Milwaukee, for instance, despite its strong German-American heritage, there was a lot of public antagonism towards any and all things German.

There really was a machine gun set up at one point in front of the famous Pabst Theatre, by a bunch of anti-German vigilantes who wanted to prevent a performance of Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell. Other German cultural activities were cancelled, from fear of public opposition. A law was passed that people could not speak out against the war. German language newspapers were confiscated (stolen) by the post office. People were forced into buying war bonds (the money used to help fight the war) even if they could not afford them.

It wasn’t just German-Americans who suffered. Other groups, such as the Mennonites, were persecuted for their opposition to the war as pacifists. In time of war, people become frightened. Fear all too often leads to the loss of civil rights.

Growing out of all the abuses, though, came an organization that worked to prevent this type of thing happening again. Today, that organization calls itself the American Civil Liberties Union.

Q: Why did you use the book Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea as a book that young Adelle is reading during the summer of Jingo Fever?

I’m a science fiction fan and I remember as a young girl loving the movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth, which I saw when I was a kid. So I thought Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea would be fitting because Adelle was afraid of Lake Superior, a lake that seemed quite different to her than the milder shores of Lake Michigan that she knew well from growing up in Milwaukee.

I didn’t realize though, until I was just about to finish the last chapters of the book, that . . . like Captain Nemo in the Jules Verne novel . . . Adelle too was trying to run away from something. Adelle wanted to avoid facing and accepting her German heritage . . . just like Nemo was running away from the real world, hiding in his submarine from the political turmoils happening on the surface of the earth.

Q: Is Jingo Fever relevant today?

Absolutely. As a history major, I realized that every time we go to war, some minority group suffers. Fear of “the other” seems to take hold. It happened against German-Americans and many others during World War I. It happened against the Japanese during World War II. And it’s happening against Muslims and Arab-Americans today after 9/11.

The other core issue, of immigration, has always been a difficult one for our country. When our country was young, the “Yankees” didn’t approve of the Irish, the Italians, the Germans. They saw them as foreigners, especially when they tried to keep alive the customs, foods, festivals, and language of their ethnic groups. Today, new immigrants from Mexico and South and Central America are harassed. But it’s interesting to look back to Wisconsin history, where there was so much rich German-based culture, including using the German language at home, in public, and for cultural performances like theater and singing festivals. Unfortunately, much of that was lost or greatly diminished because of the intolerance fueled by World Wars I and II.

In fact, other ethnic groups like Norwegian-Americans also dropped some of their public ethnic activities during World War I, out of fear of being seen as too foreign.

And of course bullying and mob behavior is pervasive. I am a substitute teacher and I know what happens to kids who are different.

I hope this book is one that will be read and discussed, especially in schools. It looks at the effects of ethnic intolerance, based on looking back to something that happened almost 100 years ago, which might be a good way to lead into discussions of what is happening today.

JINGO FEVER
A middle-grade historical novel
by Stephanie Golightly Lowden
Crickhollow Books • October 4, 2011
Trade Softcover • 128 pages • 5.5″ x 8.5″
Juvenile Fiction / Chapter Book / Ages 8–12
$13.95 • ISBN 978-1-933987-16-3

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