David Poulsen gives words on Numbers

David Poulsen gives words on Numbers

Posted on September 29 by David A. Poulsen in Kids
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The first question I’m asked when people hear I’ve written a novel about a holocaust denying high schoool teacher is, “Oh, is it about that guy out in Alberta, I can’t remember his name but you know the one I mean.”

The answer is—the man’s name is Jim Keegstra and no, the book is not about him. It is, however, fair to say that Keegstra and others like him drove me to want to create a fictional high school where the most popular and influential teacher in the school is a holocaust denier. But what interested me about the story was not what this or that person taught or what kind of people they were. Instead I was interested in what it might be like to be a student in that person’s classroom—what kinds of pressures would students face as they are torn between loyalty to a teacher they like and admire and the reaction of others to the abhorrent teaching happening in the classroom.

Next, I’m asked, “Well, did you interview the guy or his students?”

Same answer. I did not have any desire to talk to Mr. Keegstra or any other holocaust deniers, and, though I know some of his former students, I chose not to interview them either. There were two reasons behind those decisions. First of all, if the book was actually seen to be about Jim Keegstra, I was worried that I might open myself up to the possibility of a lawsuit. And secondly, I really didn’t want to provide an unwitting platform for a set of beliefs I find appalling. Instead what I did was rely on my own teaching background. I asked myself—if I were a holocaust denier and wanted to teach that in my classroom, how would I do it? I actually created lesson plans for the fictional Mr. Retzlaff in my novel. The irony is that when I taught I hated doing lesson plans and would do almost anything to avoid having to do them.

But I return to what I said earlier. While Retzlaff (Mr. R.),  what he teaches and how he interacts with kids is important to the story, Numbers is much more the story of Andy Crockett, a student who admires the very cool Mr. R. and, in fact, has never done better in school than he is in Mr. R’s social studies classroom.

Eventually, Andy is faced with the most difficult decision of his life—whether to stand alongside “the best teacher I’ve ever had” or to join his ex-girlfriend, his family and a tiny, old Jewish lady in standing up to Retzlaff, the holocaust denier.

I am delighted that Dundurn decided to re-publish a book that had disappeared very early in its literary life when the previous publisher closed its doors. And I am especially proud that Numbers was the winner of the Sakura Medal, a reader’s choice award voted on by the high school students of the International Schools in Japan. The novel has also been included in the newly designed curriculum for Grade ten English students in Saskatchewan.


David A. Poulsen

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014
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David A. Poulsen

David A. Poulsen has been a broadcaster, teacher, football coach, and — most of all — a writer. He is the author of more than twenty-five books, including the first three books in the Cullen and Cobb Mystery series. He lives on a ranch in the Alberta foothills near Calgary.