When ten-year-old Jacqueline Falna hears her mother’s scream, she is unaware that the axis of her world is about to tilt. Her father’s plane has been shot down by German fighters. In the midst of poverty, food shortages, air raids, and the grinding hardship of daily life under Nazi rule, she forms an unlikely alliance with David Bergier, a twelve-year-old Jewish neighbor who poses as her cousin after his family is “relocated” by the Nazis. When Rennes is liberated, Jacqueline meets an American soldier and becomes convinced that he has been sent to reunite her with her father.
What's most impressive about this story is that it is based on something that really happened. The American soldier in the story is Jackie Minniti's father, who really did make friends with a ten year old girl in Rennes in 1944. That means that the second half of the story, where the girl meets an American pilot and "adopts" him, is mostly true, re-created from the stories that Minniti heard her father tell her as a child, and that Jackie Minniti is named after that girl. Minniti even has the book about St. Bernadette that belonged to Jacqueline and which features so prominently in the story.
It is also true that Jacqueline's father was a pilot with the French Resistance and was shot down in March of 1943. The rest is not history, but fiction.
WRITING THE BOOK
Although the story is based on fact, Minniti still had to do a lot of research. Sometimes she would stumble on interesting details and put them in the book. For example, the parachute hanging in the trees and the bit where a farmer brought his cow to a military hospital.
This is a story filled with suspense, with believable characters, and strange twists in the story. But Minniti didn't really see the story's potential until she decided to write it for children. Minniti is a middle school reading teacher, and learned to write for pre-teens and early teens by teaching them to read and seeing what they liked.
Minniti herself said it best: "Middle graders are still in their formative years, and the books they read help them figure out how they fit into the world. As a writer you can influence their lives in ways you never imagine. That’s what makes writing for them such a challenge – and so much fun!"
If you are a reader, get a copy of Jacqueline as soon as you can! If you are a teacher, you can download free teaching materials here:
And look for Minniti's next book, also set during WWII, but this time on the Jersey Shore!