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 #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.”

FAQ #6: Research

What’s your favorite part of researching a book you’re writing?

I like the early research that give the flavor of a time, a few interesting facts, and a place for me to stand.

It gets harder later when I search for specifics such as, “Was there mail delivery at Mission Beach, San Diego, 1941?” Never did find that answer. Do you know?

Glad You Asked, Q1

Are you working on a new manuscript?

I’m struggling my way through a book set in San Diego in 1941, shortly before Pearl Harbor. Here’s the beginning, or the beginning at the moment:

Jorge lifted the slimy creature to his lips and bit it right between the eyes.

I shuddered as I watched.  “Doesn’t that taste muddy and disgusting?”

 “Nah,” he said, wiping mud from his mouth. “Is only salty. This way they don’t die but only sleep, stay fresh.” He threw the octopus into a bucket and slipped through the mud flats to another hole in the muck. He filled a baster from a mud-spattered Clorox bottle and squirted the bleach into a hole. When the occupant slithered to the surface, Jorge pulled it out and bit it, too. “You want?  Make good stew.”

I shook my head.  I preferred fish that came in cans and was mixed with mayo and chopped celery.

San Diego's Santa Fe train station
San Diego’s Santa Fe train station 1940s

We went to the Zoo

In San Diego for a memorial for Frances Cushman, Philip, Leah, and I hung out with the other wild animals at the San Diego Zoo. If you ever get a chance to go, go!

It was very hot and most of the animals were asleep or finding shade, but here are some favorites. First up, koalas!

koala

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elephants

reindeer

camel

koala

panda bears