Karen Cushman

Karen Cushman

Newbery award-winning children’s book author

Karen Cushman


War and Millie McGonigle

War and Millie McGonigle

Rodzina Clara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodski is the new face in Karen Cushman’s gallery of unforgettable heroines. One of a group of orphans, 12-year-old Rodzina boards a train on a cold day in March 1881. She’s reluctant to leave Chicago, the only home she can remember, and she knows there’s no substitute for the family she has lost. She expects to be adopted and turned into a slave—or worse, not to be adopted at all.

As the train rattles westward, Rodzina unwittingly begins to develop attachments to her fellow travelers, even the frosty orphan guardian, and to accept the idea that there might be good homes for orphans—maybe even for a big, combative Polish girl. But no placement seems right for the formidable Rodzina, and she cleverly finds a way out of one bad situation after another, until at last she finds the family that is right for her.


Educators’ Guide

Curiouser and Curiouser with Karen Cushman,” video interview, Bookology, 20 May 2021

Five Questions for Karen Cushman,” The Horn Book, 20 April 2021

My essay for Powell’s bookstore, “Learning from Millie’s World

Mysterious Galaxy presents Karen Cushman, interviewed by Colby Sharp, 6 April 2021

San Diego Shines in Karen Cushman’s Latest Novel,” Karla Peterson, San Diego Union Tribune, 3 April 2021

Author Interview: Karen Cushman on What Sparks Her Inspiration,” Stephani Martinell Eaton, Cynsations, May 2021

After enjoying War and Millie McGonigle, the Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California suggests these read-alikes.

What I Stole to Write War and Millie McGonigle,” Karen Cushman, Nerdy Book Club, 5 Apr 2021


“Transforms grim history into a light for dark times.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

“A lively choice for historical fiction fans.” (Booklist)

“Cushman offers readers a sympathetic, spirited heroine and a vividly evoked setting, chockfull of sensory detail. ‘I … sniffed deeply of the rich, salty, fishy smell of the mud. Gulls screeched like rusty hinges as they soared above me, and flocks of curlews and sandpipers scratched for bugs for breakfasts. There was plenty of life on the bay but a peaceful stillness, too, that comforted me when I needed comforting.’” (The Horn Book)

“Each chapter begins with a date, building momentum to December 7 and the attack on Pearl Harbor, an event that sends both her parents back to work and thrusts more responsibility on Millie. Cushman’s relationships prove well grounded, and Millie’s first-person voice effectively builds strength as she heals from her grandmother’s death and embraces the future.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Despite such serious topics, War and Millie McGonigle is a lively book filled with humor, love and transformation. Millie gradually learns to navigate her grief, deal with her fears and shift her focus from war and death to life and the living. Though Cushman roots the story in tangible details of the ’40s, it has much to offer contemporary readers. Gram, for instance, was a crusader who felt that all girls should know “songs of protest and the phone number of your state representative.” Millie follows in her grandmother’s footsteps and repeatedly intervenes to prevent bullying against kids of Italian and Japanese descent. Reminiscent of Katherine Paterson’s sensitive portrayals of grief, War and Millie McGonigle acknowledges the suffocating enormities of fear, injustice and tragedy Millie experiences while revealing a path forward. As Gram tells Millie, “Life’s not hopeless. We can do something about what worries and scares us. … Despite the horror, people care, work together for a better world, and bravely fight back.” (BookPage, Alice Cary, April 7, 2021)

“World War II raises the stakes, though, presenting a momentous obstacle that even the most determined child cannot fully master, but renaming her journal Book of Life helps Millie make a fresh start.” (The Bulletin)

“A must-buy for school and children’s libraries looking to expand their historical fiction selections.” (School Library Journal)

Behind The Story

On December 7, 1941, war came to America’s children. Some picked up toy guns and shot at pretend enemies. Others had nightmares for the rest of their lives. Millie McGonigle thought the war came like an earthquake and shook everything and everybody up. I wondered how she, after suffering through the depravations of the Depression, coped with the upheaval. I knew she’d need to find courage and solace somewhere.

For many years I’d heard my husband’s stories about their small house on Mission Bay. The warm bay water lapped at the sand when the tide was in. There was swimming and surfing, and children went without shoes from June until September, and their feet grew calloused and summer wide. Phil would row his small boat out where the reeds and grass grew tall and read comic books until his nose was sunburned and his empty stomach growled.

Most intriguing to me as I listened were descriptions of the vast mudflats, stinking, slippery, and mysterious, which appeared like magic when the tide was out. The mud was pocked with pickleweed and eelgrass. Shoals and small islands, home to colonies of mussels and sand dollars that stood on end in soldier-like rows, were revealed.

I knew I wanted this for anxious, fearful, worried Millie. As the world changed, Millie could find strength and wisdom through simple things and the natural world, nurtured and soothed by the tides flowing in and out, the fishy smell of the mud flats, the squawks of the gulls, the peace of the small waves on the bay, and the sparkle of the sun on the quiet blue water. So Millie moved into South Mission Beach, San Diego, and you can find her and her story there

War and Millie McGonigle

buy the book   

Order your autographed copy from The Secret Garden Bookshop in Seattle, WA. The booksellers encourage you: “in the order notes section of your order, please do specify who War and Millie McGonigle should be personalized to, and we’ll be sure to make it so!”