War and Millie McGonigle #6

friends

Millie forms a close friendship with Rosie, a girl who has just moved into the neighborhood. Rosie is three years older than Millie. Theyre interested in very different things and yet theyre still friends. Did you have a Rosie in your life? What did you want this friendship to do for the story?

I was pretty much a loner growing up. We moved to LA when I was ten so all my friends were left behind. I was sent to a school many miles away from home and most of my schoolmates. I like to read, imagine, dream, and put on plays in the garage. There was not a Rosie in my young life. I would have loved a friend like that. I wanted Millie and Rosie’s friendship to open Millie’s eyes to a different way of looking at the world, filled with hope, trust, confidence, and fun.

friends

War and Millie McGonigleWar and Millie McGonigle, written by Karen Cushman and published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, is available on April 6, 2021, from your favorite bookseller and your closest library. 

Read more “behind the book.”

War and Millie McGonigle #5

Buy War Bonds

What kinds of parallels do you see between Millie experiences in 1941 and what children are experiencing now?

Right now there is no impending war threatening our children, but there certainly is fear, confusion, and uncertainty about the future. Covid, unemployment, homelessness, political turmoil loom over us, and I expect our children are especially unsettled. I hope we all discover a place of peace, joy, and solace such as Millie found.

War and Millie McGonigleWar and Millie McGonigle, written by Karen Cushman and published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, is available on April 6, 2021, from your favorite bookseller and your closest library. 

Read more “behind the book.”

War and Millie McGonigle #4

rationing

You’re not old enough to remember 1941, the year in which War and Millie McGonigle is set. Of course, you weren’t old enough to remember the time periods for your medieval books, either. What was there about Millie’s time that made you want to write about it?

My experience of the war is mostly second hand—my Uncle Chester’s stories about fighting in the South Pacific, my father’s struggles to find tires and gas for the car, my mother’s complaints about rationing. Until the day she died, my mother grumbled about how many ration coupons I used up for the shoes I kept outgrowing. I wanted to know more about their struggles, challenges, worries. What would it be like to live in a time of such constant fear, deprivation, and uncertainty?

rationing

War and Millie McGonigleWar and Millie McGonigle, written by Karen Cushman and published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, is available on April 6, 2021, from your favorite bookseller and your closest library. 

Read more “behind the book.”

War and Millie McGonigle #3

War and Millie McGonigle

War and Millie McGonigleWe know you grew up with a brother. Is there someone in your background that brought the character of Lily, Millie’s younger sister, to life for your readers?

I wanted a sibling who was the opposite of the adorable Pete and my equally adorable brother. Luckily, I can’t remember anyone I knew who was as whiny and difficult as Lily. She was so easy to dislike. I had to make a point of softening both Lily and Millie a bit so they could build a loving relationship.

War and Millie McGonigleWar and Millie McGonigle, written by Karen Cushman and published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, is available on April 6, 2021, from your favorite bookseller and your closest library. 

Read more “behind the book.”

War and Millie McGonigle #2

Your book is full of the details that make 1941 in San Diego, California, so authentic. Mission Beach, Northern Tissue splinter-free toilet paper, Jungle Gardenia. What type of research did you do, which sources did you use, to help young readers connect to this place and time? Did you have to look up each product mention to make sure it was available in 1941?

Mission Beach Arcadia PublishingThere are many pieces to Millie’s story, and I had a lot to learn.

The internet helped me with 1940s slang, music, food, and fashions. People wrote about and posted their memories of Pearl Harbor. I accessed headlines from The San Diego Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and back issues of The San Diego Historical Society quarterly history journal online.

I used the volumes Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, The Navy Comes to San Diego, and Surfing in San Diego from the invaluable Images Of America series by Arcadia Publishing. Titles such as Daddy’s Gone to War, William M. Tuttle, Jr; “War Comes to San Diego” from the San Diego Historical Society; and Peg Kehret’s memoir, Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio made history personal. Two pamphlets, Official Guide to the San Diego Zoo, 1947, and the Coca Cola Company’s  Know Your Planes, I found on eBay. 

But by far the most important and richest resource was traveling to San Diego and walking on Bayside Walk in South Mission, watching the waves on the bay, imagining the mudflats, hearing seagulls and waves breaking on the ocean side, and listening to Phil’s stories and memories. That all made Millie’s story truer and much richer.

CheeriOats, Jello, Jungle Gardenia

Yes, I checked on every product I mention to make sure it was available and named correctly. I found that Cheerios in 1941 were CheeriOats, though Jello was Jello. The reference to Northern Tissues splinter free toilet paper was pure serendipity so I had to include it. Jungle Gardenia was the heady, exotic fragrance I wore in college and I was pleased to see it would have been around in 1941 for Cousin Edna.

War and Millie McGonigleWar and Millie McGonigle, written by Karen Cushman and published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, is available on April 6, 2021, from your favorite bookseller and your closest library. 

Read more “behind the book.”

War and Millie McGonigle #1

War and Millie McGonigle

How did the idea for Millies Book of Dead Things come  to you?

War and Millie McGonigleHaunted by her Gram’s death and the looming war, Millie became fascinated with death and dying. I wanted to give her a way to achieve some control over a scary, gloomy world. Thus The Book of Dead Things, a concrete  manifestation of her obsession. Why a book? Because I was the kind of kid who made lists in a notebook to help me keep track of my world: best books, favorite singers vs. singers I hated, handsomest movie stars, good teachers vs. bad teachers, clothes I’d like to wear when I grew up. I still have a notebook with lists of suggested plots for Elvis movies.

The Book of Dead Things also felt like a metaphor for the troubled, frightened, worried Millie before she felt the courage to accept and embrace what was good in the world. The Book became an integral part of Millie’s story and her growth.

War and Millie McGonigleWar and Millie McGonigle, written by Karen Cushman and published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, is available on April 6, 2021 from your favorite bookseller and your closest library. 

Read more “behind the book.”

My Aunt Joan

Aunt Joan

Aunt JoanMy mother’s youngest sister,
My aunt Joan, was glamourous.
She wore red lipstick and high heels
And her hair rolled in a sausage.
She had a handsome boyfriend
Who was a sailor
And became my uncle John.
She worked in a big department store downtown
Where she used a typewriter and
An adding machine
And had to go home on
The El
With all the other grown-ups of Chicago.

She brought me books and candy from the store
And taught me funny songs.
Oh I wish I was a fishy in the brook, brook, brook.
I wish I was a fishy in the brook.
Id go swimming in the nudie
Without my bathing suit-ie
Oh I wish I was a fishy in the brook.

She knitted sweaters for my dolls,
Pants and socks,
And little hats with pompoms on the top.
Each time she came to visit,
I begged her to teach me how to knit
And each time she would,
Moving my grubby fingers up and down the needles
To make the stitches tighter or looser or
Not so crooked.
Each time she left, I forgot what to do
And each time she came,
I would beg her to teach me again.
And each time she would.

My aunt Joan taught me about
Patience and
Persistence and
Possibilities.
I thought she was the best aunt in the world
And wished I had many more
Just like her
And not so many
Uncles
Who don’t know how to
Knit.

A Recipe for Hanukah

roasted chicken with dried fruits

My husband thinks chicken is one of the basic food groups so we generally make chicken for any special occasion, including Hanukah.  Chicken this way is very nice on a cold, dark, winter’s evening.  And it’s easy.

roasted chicken with dried fruits

 

Baked Chicken with Dried Fruit 

3/4 cup chopped dried apricots 
3/4 cup dried blueberries or cranberries
3/4 cup pitted prunes, chopped
1 teaspoon mustard (I use a little Dijon and a little German)
2/3 cup orange juice  (more if needed at the end to make sauce)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
8 chicken thighs (my own favorite) or a chicken, cut into 8 pieces 
Salt and pepper

In a saucepan, combine fruit, mustard, juice and vinegar. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thick, about 5 minutes.

Season chicken with salt, pepper, garlic, thyme or whatever looks good, and place in baking pan. Pour fruit mixture over and around chicken. 

Bake at 375 for 40 minutes to one hour, depending on your oven and the size of the chicken pieces. 

Becoming Californians

California

My father loved California and the
Heat.
He’d do cannonballs
Into the neighbors swimming pool
And float with only his nose,
His belly, and his toes
Above the water.

My mother sat in the shade.
With the other wives.
They drank martinis,
Painted their toenails,
And talked about womanly things.

My brother was as pale and thin
As a wisp of smoke
But he could run like the wind.
He found three boys his age
In our new neighborhood
And played basketball and baseball,
Or just ran, fast as he could,
Animated by youth and happiness
And friends.

I was the oldest girl
By far
In the neighborhood,
A block full of babies and
Boys.

I’d swim 100 laps because I could
And because it pleased my father
And then escape inside,
Put lotion on my sunburned nose,
And read.

I was more lonely than I knew.
The loneliness came in flashes
And I swallowed it inside.
I was out of place, not good enough,
Strange and foreign,
Marked like the laundry my Irish mother
Didn’t get clean enough,
Like I, too, should be hanging on the attic,
God’s attic. 

My uncle Stooge’s pigeons could go far away
and still find their way home
But not me.

So I read.
And I wrote.
I wondered and remembered,
Told myself stories I needed to hear,
Stories where I was the hero, the star,
The popular girl, the tap dancer
Or the opera singer.
Stories where I wore tight skirts and black flats
Like the other girls
Instead of brown oxfords and
Puffed sleeves.  

I learned the joy of making things up. 

I wrote about outsiders,
Like Santa Claus going down the wrong chimney
On Christmas Eve
And finding himself in a Jewish home.
I wrote about the handsomest boy in school
Falling in love with the shy, bookish girl. 
And I wrote about masks,
And painted faces,
And swallowing feelings.

Writing was a place to put my sadness
And my joys,
My fears
And tenuous hopes.

Writing saved my life and
Made me who I am.

Karen Cushman typewriter gift

Reading Past, Present, and Future

Fountains of Silence

I’m in a holding pattern with my own writing at the moment while I await editorial feedback on my book in progress (more later) so I’m able to tackle the books on my bedside table. Here’s what’s happening now:

 

I just finished This Tender Land  by William Kent Krueger  Set in 1932, the book follows four runaways from the Lincoln School, where Native American children are forcibly sent, as they launch a canoe and head for the Mississippi River. They encounter tragedy, heartbreak, kindness, and hope. Some lovely passages, exciting incidents, and interesting characters. Think Homer’s Odyssey.  I greatly enjoyed the book and will search out another by William Kent Krueger.

I’m now reading (gobbling up is more like it) Fountains of Silence by the brilliant Ruta Sepetys. Madrid, 1957. Silence, secrets, danger, fear.  Such writing, such research! I’m gobsmacked.

Next up is an indie titled The Serpent, The Puma, and the Condor, written by Gayle Marie. It’s a tale of Machu Pichu. Incas, conquistadors, and the tragic conflict of cultures. I can’t wait.