Publishers' Preview: Spring 2021: Five Questions for Karen Cushman

This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2021 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Spring 2021, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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In War and Millie McGonigle, Millie’s beachside childhood in San Diego is shadowed by the death of her grandmother — and then Pearl Harbor is attacked.

1. As a child, who did you miss most?

My grandpa, Florian Ladislaus Lipski. He let us climb on the coal pile in the basement, took out his teeth and pretended to be Grandma, and played as a one-man band. He bet on horseraces at a bookie joint where they paid the winners with two-dollar bills. My grandpa didn’t die when I was a child like Millie’s gram did. We moved far away. Every week he sent me a letter and included a two-dollar bill. That’s how I knew he was still betting on the horses.

2. Millie finds consolation and inspiration by the water; do you? (I know you live on an island.)

Water has always helped me to be calm and centered, whether it’s on the horizon, out the window, or falling from the sky. The loveliest moment of my day now is when I’m on the ferry, leaving the noise and chaos of the big city, and can see our misty green island across the water.

3. What have you learned about reading historical fiction by writing it?

When I write, I try to be as accurate and truthful as possible. It takes diligence, time, and research. So when I read a book that puts the wrong Henry in sixteenth-century England, I notice and I object. How can I trust anything else the book says?

4. You were born just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. How did the war color your early childhood?

My experience of the war is mostly secondhand — my uncle Chester’s stories about fighting in the South Pacific, tales of 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.

5. What part of Millie is least like you?

Millie is better at expressing her emotions than I was as a child. I kept things bottled up, and I guess I’m pretty much like that still. I admire Millie’s ability to own her emotions and act on them.

Sponsored by
Random House

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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Duffy Lipski

I remember playing Gappa (sp?) with Karen and Grandpa on their dining room table. He called the game Old Crow. I still have one of the $2 bills from his bookie joint winnings. Duffy is my nickname from childhood as the luckiest kid ever to have Karen as my sister.

Posted : Apr 22, 2021 02:00



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