Karen Cushman

Karen Cushman

Newbery award-winning children’s book author

Karen Cushman

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.