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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Napa County Reads Brings Refugee Author Alan Gratz to the Napa Valley

The Napa County Reads program invites the community to a special evening with author Alan Gratz. Gratz will be discussing his action-packed novel Refugee, which tackles topics both timely and timeless: courage, survival, and the quest for home. An author reception in the lobby before the event will feature food, information, art and book signings.

Refugee explores the stories of three different kids with one mission in common: escape. Josef is a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world. Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety and freedom in America. Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe. All three young people go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers—from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But for each of them, there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, surprising connections tie their stories together.

According to Dr. Barbara Nemko, Napa County Superintendent of Schools, “The issue of immigration and refugees has been in the news a great deal in the last few years. Yet it is an issue as old as time. People have always moved around to try to build a better life for themselves and their families.” She adds, “We chose Refugee for Napa County Reads because it tells of different families from three different periods of time and place; Germany during the Holocaust, Cuba in the 90’s, and Syria today. Through their stories, and the dangers they faced in fleeing their home countries, our students will see how much they have in common with the refugees of today, who are still trying to escape poverty and oppression.”

Refugee spent more than half a year on the New York Times bestseller list, and has received numerous awards, including the Sydney Taylor Book Award, the National Jewish Book Award, the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Award, a Charlotte Huck Award Honor, and a Malka Penn Award for Human Rights Honor. Refugee was also a Global Read Aloud Book for 2018.

Elementary and middle school students around Napa County have been reading Refugee throughout the fall in preparation for this event. Book sets were provided to teachers through generous donations from Community Projects, Inc. and the Napa Center for Thought and Culture. The community is invited to join local students in reading the book as a “community-wide book club”. Napa County Reads is a coalition of educators and community members dedicated to improving the reading experiences of students throughout Napa County with an emphasis on middle schools. A portion of the proceeds from this event will benefit the Napa County Reads program.

“Our community has a special opportunity to hear Mr. Gratz speak at what is sure to be an incredible evening,” said Naomi Chamblin, owner of local bookstore Napa Bookmine. “He has created voices and stories for three different fictional refugees over a century’s timeline, and their stories are incredibly moving and relevant for children and adults alike.“

This author event is for adults and students alike. The evening will kick off with a reception in the stunning lobby of the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater. Gratz will be available to sign copies of the book, and Napa Bookmine will have books for sale. Delicious appetizers influenced by Jewish, Cuban and Syrian food will be prepared and served by students with the local high school culinary programs. Representatives from organizations that support immigrant and refugee populations will be providing information and taking questions. Student art created by middle school students around Napa County and inspired by the book will be on display.

Beginning at 6:45 p.m., Gratz will take the stage for a conversation with local radio personality Barry Martin. Martin will speak with Gratz about his experience writing Refugee, his journey to becoming an author and his life as a novelist. Following this lively discussion, the audience will briefly hear from speakers with connections to the Jewish Holocaust, and the Cuban and Syrian refugee crises.

Danis Kreimeier, Napa County Library Director of Library Services and Community Outreach, commented on the Library’s participation in the Napa County Reads program. “Introducing students to new worlds and different cultures is an opportunity to spark learning and empathy through reading. Napa County Reads aligns with the Napa County Library’s mission to give our community’s younger populations that chance to experience the pleasure of reading, explore ideas, and to broaden their awareness of the world around them.”

Gratz was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, home of the 1982 World’s Fair. He now lives with his wife Wendi and his daughter Jo in Asheville, North Carolina, where he enjoys playing games, eating pizza, and, perhaps not too surprisingly, reading books.

Gratz is author of a number of novels for young readers. His first novel, Samurai Shortstop, was named one of the American Library Association’s Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults. His second novel, Something Rotten, was an ALA Quick Pick for Young Adult Readers. His first middle grade novel, The Brooklyn Nine, was one of the ALA’s Top Ten Sports Books for Youth and Top Ten Historical Books for Youth, and his middle grade Holocaust novel Prisoner B-3087 was one of YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Readers and has won eight state awards. Grenade, Alan’s most recent book about the Battle of Okinawa, debuted at number three on the New York Times bestseller list.

For more information about the Napa County Reads program visit

Refugee: A Conversation with Author Alan Gratz

Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater

100 California Drive, Yountville

February 11th • 6:45 pm 6 pm reception with author

Free to students

Adults $20 at box office, $25 online

For tickets visit

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