Friday, March 29, 2019
To the Young Readers of Massachusetts;
How thrilled I am to accept the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award for A NIGHT
DIVIDED! You had many wonderful books to choose from this year, and any of them would
have deserved this honor.
The book’s origin came from Ilona, a friend of our family’s. She was born into East Germany
and at age five, her family made the decision to escape. Ilona’s parents planned to escape
through the countryside. However, they didn’t want to take a five-year-old running through
the countryside, so a different plan had to be put in place for Ilona.
Her grandparents in the west would come over by train, and then return by train with Ilona –
not on the seat beside them, because she had no papers. Instead, Ilona was drugged, put to
sleep, and hidden in the baggage car of the train beneath a pile of hay. They knew the car
would be searched at the border, and if Ilona even rolled over in her sleep, she would be sent
back to East Germany alone and her grandparents would be arrested, or worse.
In the end, all of Ilona’s family successfully escaped, but when I heard her story, I knew I
wanted to tell the story of the people of East Germany. It means so much to me that you then
read this book, and loved it.
But here is the great secret of this award: really, you are the winner.
Books are powerful things. They influence our minds and expand our imaginations. They
take us new places, introduce new ideas, and touch our hearts. Books will change us. And if
A NIGHT DIVIDED had any impact on you whatsoever, I hope it’s this.
At some point in your life, someone will put a wall in front of you and say, “This is as far as
you go.” Whatever your hopes or dreams or wishes for yourself, they will say that you’re not
smart enough to get past that wall, or fast enough or strong enough, or that you’re not goodlooking
enough, wealthy enough, popular enough – that you are not enough.
And in that moment, I hope you will remember Gerta and her courage. I hope you will
remember that you do not have to live behind the walls others build for us. So you go over it
or around it, or under it, or you build a door and you walk straight through it, but do not live
within anyone else’s limits.
Instead, you walk into this great and wonderful world of ours, and you make it a better place,
because you were here. Do that, and then we all share in this great award.
My warmest thanks to you all!
Jennifer A. Nielsen
To the Young Readers of Massachusetts.pdf