Monday, August 15, 2016

#MGGetsReal--A Chat With Author Kathleen Burkinshaw

Hi Kathleen! Thanks for stopping by to chat about the books that influenced you as a child and books that served as mentor texts when you were writing, THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM.

Thanks for inviting me!

Kathleen, what book or books from your childhood made a lasting impression?

The first is A LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  As an only child in my awkward early teen years I spent a lot of time in my room reading.  Sara Crewe stood out to me because no matter what situation she was in-whether she was a rich student with a doting father, or a suddenly orphaned scullery maid she had a kind soul.  She had the ability to put people at ease and to know when someone needed help.  When things took a turn and she was forced to give up her education and live in the attic as a servant, she mourned, but was determined to make it somehow.  But her imagination and ability to whisk people away when she told a story so they could forget their worries or sadness for a while, stuck with me. 

Fast forward to my early 30s- I had spent a month in the hospital followed by a few more visits over the next fifteen months.  I nearly died from a deep vein thrombosis, and as a result from nerve damage, I had been diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a neurological chronic pain disease.  I could not really walk much and was pretty weak.  However, my four-year-old daughter would sit on the bed with me where we played with her dolls and I read to her. I found the copy of THE LITTLE PRINCESS I bought for her when she was born.  I’d read a few chapters on my own and then would give her a summary each day. It helped take my mind off of some of my pain and I spent time with my daughter who had missed me so much while I was away.  Telling the story to my daughter, reminded me of the joy of using one’s imagination. This revelation led me to pick up my pen (Yup, I’m old school) and create through my pain. Oh! I should mention, my daughter’s name is Sara.

The second book is one I read as an adult, THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer.  It was the pick for our library book club.  This was a wonderful historical fiction novel that because of the title I probably wouldn’t have picked up on my own.  Not only was it a good read, but in the Acknowledgements the author thanked her agent and she also thanked Anna Olswanger.  It happened to be a few months since Anna had done a critique of my manuscript for the SCBWI Carolinas Conference.  When I saw Anna’s name it nudged me to contact her again to ask if she might look at my revisions.  After several months of more revisions, she offered me representation and began to submit THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM to publishing houses.  I will always be grateful that we read that book in book club!

What book or books served as mentor texts when you were writing about Hiroshima and the last days of WWII?

ELEANOR HILL by Lisa Williams Kline.  This historical fiction is based on letters that were written by her grandmother. My own inspiration was a treasured photo of my mother and her papa.

Another mentor text was BLUE by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. It's historical fiction that also took place during WWII, and is written in first person. I chose first person for THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM because I wanted the reader to feel in the moment, just as I had with BLUE.

Reading books by Holly Thompson helped me to write the Japanese conversation true to the time frame and culture, but not be stilted.  In addition, I read books describing what life was like for the Japanese children and their families during the war. Books such as, A BOY NAMED H, by Kappa Senoh and LEAVES FROM AN AUTUMN OF EMERGENCIES, SELECTIONS FROM THE WARTIME DIARIES OF ORDINARY JAPANESE compiled by Samuel Hideo Yamashita.   I, of course, also included books that had other accounts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors, such as THE LAST TRAIN FROM HIROSHIMA: THE SURVIVORS LOOK BACK by Charles Pellegrino.  Lastly, during my revisions I researched internet sources for various newspaper headlines, propaganda posters, and radio slogans during the war in Japan. (Please note that not all these books would be suitable for middle grade students.  I listed sources appropriate for them in the back of my book). 

Thanks, Kathleen for stopping by and being a part of #MGGetsReal!

Kathleen will be blogging on the NCTE blog on August 16th and conducting a giveaway of all five books pictured above!


  1. I loved this book when I read it. It was such a different perspective on our use of the atomic bomb and its impact on the people of Hiroshima. I reviewed it on my blog dedicated to books about WWII for young readers

  2. That's what I liked about it too. And the story is so personal to Kathleen since her mom was one of the survivors.