Bringing Historical Fiction to the Modern Classroom

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Please enjoy my recent guest blog post on KIDLITERATI Blog by clicking on the title below:

Reaching Readers Guest Post with Kathleen Burkinshaw

Today we’re fortunate to have debut middle grade author Kathleen Burkinshaw with us to discuss how she brings historical fiction to the modern classroom. Enjoy…click to continue

GETTING THE WHOLE PICTURE….

I remember one day coming home from school – after walking uphill both ways- (sorry couldn’t resist 🙂 ) and being mad at a girl in my class because of something one of my friends told me she said. To be honest, I have no recollection of what the issue was.  However, I do remember my mom asking me if I went up to the class mate and asked her if or why she said anything about me.  I needed to have a better understanding- needed to have the whole picture before making an assumption (and we all know what can happen when we assume).

One of the reasons that I chose not to start THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM on the day of the bombing, but instead give the reader a glimpse into Yuriko’s family life first, was to show readers that even though Yuriko lived in Japan she still had the same love of family, fear of losing loved ones in the war, and enjoyed being with her friends. She acted very similar to and had the same emotions as the children in the Allied countries. I hope that by discussing her family traditions and introducing the readers to a culture they may not know much about, I am giving them more than just a couple of paragraphs in a history text-book about the end of WWII in the Pacific. And by the end of the book, they could discover that the people we might see as the ‘enemy’ are not always so different from ourselves.

Which is why I’m so excited to be an Author Sponsor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day which is this Friday, January 27th!! Multicultural Children’s Book Day(MCCBD), co-founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen began on January 27, 2014. It is a chance for authors, illustrators, publishers, bloggers, librarians, and teachers to work together and introduce children to books that celebrate each other’s cultures and heritage. But just as important- to be sure these books are available in libraries and classrooms.

Please visit MCCBD’s website and check out the book reviews, reader activities, and book lists. There will be a Twitter party/giveaway of many fantastic books (including mine 🙂 ) on Friday at 9pm. Information can be found on Twitter under #ReadYourWorld.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day is a great start to introducing children to books that encourage them to look at the whole picture – a skill they can develop for years to come.

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Light the Lights and Ring the Bells

At this time of year, almost anywhere you may go, you can see holiday lights. Sparkling lights adorn the evergreen tree in the mall parking lot, as well as decorating doorways and front lawns in your neighborhood. Personally, I’m partial to the blue lights on our Palm tree in front of our house.bluelightspalm

Lights also play a major role in the Jewish celebration of Chanukah, the winter festival of lights.  In Japan, the celebration of Christmas is not necessarily for religious reasons, nor is it much of a commercial holiday.  However, their outside Christmas light displays are amazing.

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But lights are not just illuminating the outdoors.  Two weeks ago, I attended a remembrance service sponsored by the local hospice. Each of us that gathered there had lost a loved one. Some people had lost someone as far back as twenty years while some as recent as a few days before.

Inside the church four candles were lit- one represented grief, the second courage, the third one for our memories, and the fourth for our love. One of the hospice staff lit his individual candle, while saying the names of the people he was honoring and a fond memory about them. He then passed the light to the next person and we each in turn did the same. I’m not going to lie, it was difficult, yet very cathartic.

Inside my home, I lit candles the past 4 Sundays on our advent wreath. These lights remind me that a baby was born long ago to be with us, to save us, to stay with us.  Celebrating that miraculous birthday gives me strength and hope through each aspect of my life.adventwreath2

Our own birthdays are another occasion with candlelight.  My mom’s fell on December 15.  She loved éclairs more than cake. I remember the last birthday we celebrated. She was in a nursing home for physical rehab after her first hospital stay.  She finally had her appetite and I wanted to bring her an éclair.

It sounds easy enough.  However, around here, eclairs are not all made the same.  Some only have a fluffy, frosting cream instead of the yummy custard we had up north.  Anyway… I finally had found a bakery.  My daughter and I brought it to her, along with a little battery operated candle that she could make a wish on.  We sang to her, and kept the candle going the rest of the night. Little did I know, she would be gone in 4 weeks to the day of that birthday.

Last year, I was too depressed to celebrate her birthday.  But this year, I bought an éclair, lit a candle, and we celebrated my mom.

Glimmering lights and candles are used for remembrances and celebrations. In that sense, I feel that a person’s love for us can also be a light in our life.  When someone passes away, their light may flicker, but it is never really snuffed out. The source of the light is just a bit further away, and our loving memories keep the flame burning.

We are now about to usher in 2017. Many countries celebrate the new year with fireworks, firecrackers, and bells ringing. While I was growing up, my mother insisted that I always be home with her on New Year’s Eve. She believed that if the whole family was together at that time, there would be good fortune in the new year.  When I married, and moved further away, I would call her right after the ball dropped in Times Square and wish her happy new year in Japanese –  “Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu”. (One of the few Japanese phrases I know). I did this every year until she passed away. I so miss that. (I also miss the time when I could stay awake past midnight.)

In THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM(TLCB), one of the featured holidays is the New Year celebration(Oshogatsu).  Yuriko’s Papa settled his business finances for the year, they cleaned the house, New Year decorations were put up, and Yuriko helped her relatives prepare their special food for the New Year celebration which lasted from December 31st through January 3rd.

I feel that the sentiment from this paragraph of Yuriko’s celebration in TLCB echoes what I hope 2017 will bring:

           I took Papa’s hand as the temple bell began to strike. It rang out 108 times.  Each toll of the bell was intended to symbolize the release of a sin or bad habit, giving a fresh start to the New Year. But with each bong I sat wishing, “Peace, peace, peace…”  

I wish you a peaceful New Year filled with much joy and light with your loved ones!

Also linking up at Coffee For Your Heart.

Are you ready for Thanksgiving?

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Thanksgiving is only a week away- shocking, right? I still have Halloween decorations up-although I had no trouble putting away the Halloween candy :). free-halloween-clip-art-illustrations_098203_halloween2Some mixed emotions have made their way to the surface-Thanksgiving week 2 years ago, my mom began what would become two and a half months of hospital visits. But, it’s also when I signed my contract with Sky Pony Press to publish THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM.

This November, my daughter left her teen years behind and turned 20! I still can’t wrap my head around that one. I mean, there’s no way that I’m 20 years older… So, it makes me nostalgic for her younger years and of course my mom was also a big part of that.

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Then, I think way back to a Thanksgiving about 15 years ago, I mistakenly thought I had very little to be thankful for. My body betrayed me with unbearable pain. I spent most of my time at the doctor’s office, physical therapy, or in the hospital. I had to give up the career I worked so hard to achieve, and I didn’t feel that I could participate in my daughter’s life as much as other mothers did with their children. I went through quite an embarrassingly long pity party (one that even crispy rice treats could not help); until I realized that even though I lost opportunities in my life-I was alive (which was touch & go for a while), my daughter was healthy, and my husband loved me.

Now I can look back and see how far I’ve come since one chapter in my life ended and I began to write new ones (figuratively and literally).

In early October, I had my New England Book Launch at An Unlikely Story Bookstore and Café in Plainville MA. Being able to discuss and sign my book with family, close friends who had known and cared about my mother for years, as well as friends I hadn’t seen in such a long time, made me feel so loved! I’m grateful that I had that opportunity and that they were so happy to share that moment with me. On top of that, the bookstore, (which you really should visit if you live near there-it’s magical), is owned by Jeff Kinney, author of THE WIMPY KID Series (yup, that Jeff Kinney) so he has some incredible NYT Bestselling authors that visit. I signed the same author guest book that Rick Riordan signed three days before I was there!

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While in New England, I had been invited to visit the public middle school in my hometown of Woonsocket, RI. I had never presented to 125 6th graders before, and they were a wonderful audience. I got back so much more from these students than I had given them.

A couple weeks later I was invited to do my first solo author session at the North Carolina School Library Media Association annual conference in Winston-Salem.I was nervous, but met so many great librarians, authors, and teachers.

Earlier this month, I participated in Charlotte Mecklenburg(CM) Library Foundation’s—EpicFest. Authors involved in this literary festival were award winning, New York Time Bestsellers, and me. I wanted to keep pinching myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. The CM Library arranged two fantastic school visits – my first high school-North Mecklenburg High School in Huntersville, and Wadell Language Academy in Charlotte. Both classes studied Japanese. Thankfully, they didn’t expect me to speak Japanese because they would’ve been sadly dissapointed. They know far more Japanese words than I do 🙂

The big CM Library celebration was on Saturday at ImaginOn in Charlotte. Over 2,000 children/teens were there to hear and meet their favorite author or illustrator. It was so great for me to meet and chat with these authors and illustrators, so I can only imagine what their fans felt like!epicfestimaginon

(with NYT best selling MG author,Tui Sutherland)

THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM was also on sale at the festival.  Being able to meet so many tweens/teens that wanted to read my book, or had read my book and wanted to tell me what they liked about it brought me such joy.

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Most recently I’ve been invited to book clubs. It’s been interesting visiting groups that have already read my book.

As I look back to all the events that led me to right here, recovering from a pain flare, one week before Thanksgiving, I’m truly grateful that my life didn’t go on the path I had originally thought it should. Because, if I hadn’t spent extra time with my mom and heard the stories of her childhood while I recovered, if my family didn’t have to move to a warmer climate because of my RSD, and if my daughter hadn’t asked her teacher if I could speak to her class about my mom’s experience on August 6th – I wouldn’t have a book. So because of some unexpectected turns, I can now meet and discuss my mom’s story with students (our future voters), about the danger of nuclear weapons, and the need to realize the “enemy” is not always so different from ourselves.

My mom had said that even though she experienced horrific events in her life, it eventually led her to having me and my daughter. She called us her life lines-we gave her new hope. I’m grateful for my mom’s love and support that she gave us all up until she passed away. I’m also grateful for all I’ve been blessed with in my life-detours and all. Wishing you all a blessed Thanksgiving -whether you’re where you expected to be or not & whether your Halloween decorations are still up or not 🙂

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Lilybloombooks

On The Road to Libraries, Book Festivals, and Pain Flares

It has been a whirlwind of a month since THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM(TLCB) was published (I just need to pause a moment here, because every time I realize I’m actually a published author, I get giddy and giggle-okay I can continue now) :). I’ve spent a lot of time doing guest blog posts, sending emails to various schools, book festivals, and submitting conference proposals.

And two weeks ago we took TLCB on the road to attend the Mid-South Book Festival held in Memphis, Tennessee.magic school bus

On our way to the Mid-South Book Festival, we stopped in a little town named Ripley. My very dear friend Robin, (well she is more like a member of my family now), arranged for me to do a signing and presentation at the Lauderdale County Library. I hadn’t seen her since my mom passed away nearly two years ago. It was my first time visiting Robin in Ripley and it was a visit long overdue. The town may have been small but the southern hospitality was tremendous. Every single person was so welcoming and excited for me and my book. It was a wonderful, albeit, much too quick visit.

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The next day we headed to Memphis for the Mid-South Book Festival. Now, my mom was a huge Elvis fan. In fact, when she first discussed moving to NC, she wanted to know just how many hours away we were from Graceland! She became a fan when LOVE ME TENDER first debuted in Japan. She waited in a huge line with her Elvis shoe laces on her shoes, and then stayed all day and night to watch every single showing. So watching Elvis movies and listening to his music together were some of my fondest memories with her. But because it reminded me too much of her, I hadn’t listened to his music since she passed away.

But, knowing this, how could we be in Memphis and not visit Graceland? I had been having leg pain from the drive, and was walking slowly. However, there were many benches and the tour is not that long(Graceland is surprisingly small), so I got through it okay.img_20160921_185004944

My mom would have loved it there. I got teary eyed when I first heard one of her favorite Elvis songs, but it brought me happy memories of her singing along to it.

The next day was the Mid-South Book Festival. I participated in my first author panel(Yay!) I was extremely nervous. But I brought my entourage (my husband, my friend Robin and her daughter Katelyn) with me, so I’d have at least three people in the audience that knew me. 🙂 The three middle grade authors on the panel with me were fantastic.  The moderator asked questions that I could answer easily and sound like I knew what I was talking about. 🙂 A little over an hour later, I could relax and celebrate with an ice cream sundae. The only bummer was that my book was on backorder, so it couldn’t be sold at the festival. But it was on back order because the first printing sold out, so I can’t complain about that!

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(with Barry Wolverton,Sonia Gensler, Alice Faye Duncan)

We drove back home on Sunday, and I spent the next 11 days in my room with a pain flare up. So I’m learning the valuable lesson of pacing myself. After 15 years with RSD you’d think I would have that pacing thing down pat. But, my type A personality tried to kick in again and it is a frustrating battle that I lose most of the time. This was definitely one of those times.

But while I was stuck in bed surrounded by crispy rice treat crumbs on my comforter, I spent some time researching various venues to market THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM. Right before I left for Memphis, I found out that I won the Honor Award for the Society of  Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Book Launch Grant!! I was beyond ecstatic!celebration hooray pokemon yay

My hope is to present my mother’s story to various Japanese societies, schools, and nuclear disarmament organizations. Because of this grant I will be presenting to Peace Action Staten Island, and am working on a presentation date at the Japanese Embassy in Washington DC in the Spring! Between now and then I will be practicing my pacing skills. I’ve heard that crispy rice treats & a little chocolate really helps with that….

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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Do you remember this phrase as the first words when Frosty the Snowman first came to life from wearing the magician’s hat? Frosty was in awe and wonder at the world around him. Well, that was exactly how I felt when I woke up last Tuesday, August 2nd!!

Over the past six years and especially this last year I imagined how rewarding it would feel to see my name on a published book. But when my advanced, finished author copy came in the mail, all of my senses switched to overload. Except the sense of taste – I may eat my words from time to time, but not the ones on a printed page. 🙂

Feeling the weight of the hardcover book in my hands, seeing my name on the beautifully, haunting book cover, and the wonderful new book smell was intoxicating. The sound I heard – my mom’s voice the day she told me how much she loved the book. How amazed she was that people would want to read her story. And how much pride and love for me she felt because I did that for her, for her Papa.

The day began with wonderful emails, tweets, Facebook posts congratulating me and wonderful reviews for THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM. Later Tuesday afternoon, we went to visit Main Street Books in Davidson where my launch will be (This Saturday 13th 1-3pm) to see multiple copies of my book on display.

BEYOND AMAZING(A gazillion times better than I imagined)!

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After I took pictures (and made my husband and daughter take many pictures) I felt like skipping out of the store-not that I can skip, but you get the idea.

However, the icing on the cake (which would be chocolate, if you were wondering) moment happened just as we were about to walk out the door. A man came in and asked the clerk for a book his daughter pre-ordered, Yup, you know what’s coming…THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM!!!!!

I whirled around and exclaimed, “That’s MY book!!!” (cue wide goofy grin and sudden downpour of confetti).confetti He told me his daughter is planning to come to my book launch—did I mention it is this Saturday, the 13th in Davidson, NC? – I digress. He also said his she would have wished she came with him. So I asked what every writer dreams of asking…” Would you like me to sign my book? “spongebob excited

So, on the day my book was released into the wild, I signed my first autograph!!! Thank you, Lillian!! I pretty much floated out of the bookstore!

At the end of that magnificent day, I realized I hadn’t felt such true happiness or have my cheeks aching wonderfully from smiling  in a very, very long time. A piece of me is so happy that even though, I have such physical pain and at times feel betrayed by my body, my brain still worked. But the rest of me feels so gratefully, joyfully blessed, because people will read my mom’s story and learn about the events in her life that shaped her into the bravest woman I’ll ever know. Her bravery – only surpassed by her love for her family.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to your story, Mom!!IMG_0005

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SECOND TO NONE

It’s been a while since I wrote a post, hopefully you missed them. 🙂  I had been dealing with a lot of firsts: my first birthday without my Mom, first Mother’s Day, first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and her first anniversary in January. It took (and still does) grief therapy sessions, prayers, wonderful family and friends to help me make it through them. Not only that but they reminded me of the grace and joy still in those very days.

In the midst of these firsts, I began my first major round of edits for THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, with my publisher. It excited and overwhelmed me. Excitement because I knew that meant I was on the road to publication. That said, upon opening the Track Changes editing program with its maze of lines and comments, I did what any dedicated author would do. I closed it. I Grabbed a paper bag and began hyperventilating into it. My one thought- I was not capable of writing an email, never mind a blog post, and certainly not a novel.

But, I then made a batch of crispy rice treats, hot cocoa (to soften the blow) and opened it again. I read one comment at a time, instead of all at once (I ran out of paper bags). My editors were so helpful with their comments and directives for new scenes. They also had a lot to say of what they liked-that renewed my hope.

An interesting thing about the timing of these edits, aside from having a tight deadline around the Christmas holiday, recovering from a pain flare, and researching for the new scenes(OK I did enjoy that), was I could visit with my mom once again. I looked through some of my research books and found notes of questions I had meant to ask my mother but never got the chance. But I also found information about her family tree that I had forgotten about.

I could hear the catch and tremble in her voice when she recalled the sad, horrific times. But I could also hear her voice retelling me the joyful loving events of her childhood. I could see the smile on her face and the love shining in her eyes. I remembered the long and tight hugs she would give me afterwards.

So as I approach the second Mother’s day without her, I realize that with each presentation I give, with each person who may read my book, with each hug I give to/receive from my daughter, and with each pain flare I get through, my mother’s love and perseverance are there. These realizations do not erase the ache of losing her. But knowing and remembering that she will always be with me, begins to fill some of the cracks in my broken heart.

the three Ishikawas

Happy Mother’s day Mom, with love from your daughter & granddaughter.

And Happy Mother’s day to all of you Moms out there!

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