Today I’m very excited to welcome dear friend and fellow SCBWI Nevada mentee, Mina Witteman to my blog.
Mina is an amazing international author and editor, and today she’s sharing the inspiring story of how genetics, a love of books, and a lifetime of sailing led to the creation of her hugely successful Boreas series for middle grade readers.
Mina will tell us how she weaves facts and reality into her extraordinary fiction.
Mina writes in English and Dutch, and has seven middle grade adventure novels out in the Netherlands, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book. She is currently working on an English novel for Young Adults and an English middle grade novel.
She debuted in 2005 with De wraak van Deedee (Deedee’s Revenge), followed by two more middle grade adventure novels with Van Goor Children’s Books. In 2010 she transferred to Ploegsma Children’s Book Publishers, one of the oldest and most prestigious children’s book publishers in the Netherlands, where her Boreas series is published. The Boreas series tell the story of twelve-year-old Boreas who circumnavigates the world with his parents on a sailboat. The first book, Boreas en de zeven zeeën (Boreas and the Seven Seas ), came out in June 2015 and received rave reviews. Boreas en de duizend eilanden (Boreas and the Thousand Islands) was published in April 2016 and was equally praised, just like book 3 in the series, Boreas en de vier windstreken (Boreas and the Four Winds) that saw the light in 2017. Book 4, Boreas en de vijftien vrienden (Boreas and the Fifteen Friends) is scheduled to come out in 2018.
She was honored to write a series of 21 short stories with illustrations of famous Dutch illustrator Fiep Westendorp. The series was published in Bobo Children’s Magazine. Recent short stories are published in the famous read-aloud anthologies of Ploegsma Children’s Books. She is the proud author of a Dutch Little Golden Book, Mia’s Nest (Rubinstein Publishing, 2014), followed by a full-version Spanish edition, El nido de Mia (Panamericana, 2016).
Mina is a seasoned book editor, trained through the University of Amsterdam’s Dual Master Book Editing. She is an certified teacher creative writing (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences) and teaches and coaches budding and published writers alike. Mina is SCBWI’s International Published Authors’ Coordinator and a founding member of the successful SCBWI Europolitan Conferences. Mina is member of the EU Planning Committee of the SCBWI British Isles’ Undiscovered Voices Competition for unagented and unpublished writers and illustrators and a nominating body for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and a long-time jury member for the Young Authors Fiction Festival of the American Library in Paris. She is the Program Associate Children and Young Adults for the Bay Area Book Festival, and lives in Berkeley, California.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WRITING – Mina’s story
I grew up in a small town in the Netherlands. Tucked away in the crown of a knotted linden tree, I read book after book, fiction and non-fiction, books that landed me in adventures on far shores, books that taught me history and mythology, books that let me explore nature and science. I loved these books and their exciting unfamiliar worlds. I often wished I could live in them for a while. Reading sparked a fire that, to this date, hasn’t gone out. But there was more that ignited this longing to look further than my own world. My father was an architect and a sailor with a lifelong dream to sail around the world. He instilled in me a love for science, for the sea and the wind. My mother showed me how to catch the tiniest details of life and nature, like a caterpillar on a tree branch or a quicksilver rabbit in a faraway field, gone in an eye’s blink. She also had the gift of storytelling, which she passed on to me. With strands like that coiled around each other and forming my DNA, it was inevitable that some day I myself would write thrilling adventures on far shores.
It wasn’t until I had scattered my mother’s ashes in the sea and bid my father fair winds and following seas, that Boreas was born. Boreas, a young boy named after the Greek god of the northern wind, who circumnavigates the world with his parents on their sailboat the Argo. I couldn’t be happier when Ploegsma, one of the oldest and most prestigious Dutch children’s publishing houses, decided to publish the series.
I wanted the series to appeal to all children, no matter where they lived, to girls and boys, to sailors and to readers who prefer solid ground. Like the stories that captivated me when I was young, I wanted Boreas’s journey to reflect life and the real world in all its facets. I could not just include fun and games; I had to add life’s hardships and the world’s challenges, as well. My biggest hurdle was that I love—as in LOVE!—facts. If I come across something, say celestial navigation, I find out every little detail about it. And I’m super eager to share that knowledge. But I didn’t want to scuttle Boreas’s fast-paced adventures by dumping facts.
My mother’s storytelling gift threw me a lifebuoy. While perusing the logbooks she kept during the twelve years she and my father spent sailing, I realized Boreas had to keep a logbook, too. So, I alternated riveting adventures, ashore and at sea, with more reflective logbook pages where I could sprinkle in my fun facts, ranging from the use of marine signal flags to, yes, celestial navigation, from recipes of dishes typical to the countries Boreas visits to wildlife to plastic pollution.
Most important to me was that I portrayed events, countries and cultures without cloaking the harsher sides of life. I juxtaposed bleaker stories with lighter ones to find a healthy balance in presenting the good and the bad for my young middle grade readers. My Dutch candor keeps me from prettifying the truth. If there is no happy end in real life, like when Boreas and his parents crash into the self-built raft of a young refugee, trying cross the English Channel, I won’t forge a happy ending nor will I leave my readers in despair. I do want to give hope and the logbook pages turned out to be a perfect tool for that. Boreas looks back on events like this, asking himself questions: What is fair and what is unfair? How would he solve the situation if he were in charge? Readers, but also teachers and librarians love the books, as they not just give the joy of reading, but offer talking points for discussions, while sneaking in information and facts that can deepen my readers understanding of the world.
Thanks, Mina for sharing your amazing story with us. If you have questions for Mina, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this blog.
Happy writing 🙂