Until I wrote The Quilt Walk, I’d never written a children’s book. I’d never wanted to. I figured I had as much talent for children’s books as I did for French poetry.
It turned out, however, that I loved writing The Quilt Walk. Writing for children is both easier and harder than writing adult novels. Young reader books are shorter and the plots simpler, but I had to learn to use shorter sentences and to think like a 10-year old, which I hadn’t done in 60 years. The book was well-received. In fact, it won the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Wrangler Award and has been nominated for other awards.
So I decided to tackle a second young reader novel—Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky. It will be published in September. This book is about a 12-year-old Japanese girl who is sent to a World War II relocation camp with her family. The camp, of course, is called Tallgrass (real name Amache), in southeastern Colorado. It’s the setting of my adult novel, Tallgrass, and I’ve given walk-on roles to several characters from the earlier book.
When I wrote Tallgrass, I considered telling the story from the viewpoint of a Japanese girl, but I decided that would be presumptuous since I’m not Japanese. But Amy Lennex, my editor at Sleeping Bear Press, persuaded me that I could write a children’s book told through the eyes of a Japanese girl.
I think I know girls—having once been one myself. I remembered how 12-year-olds think, how they react with their families and friends. But I was unsure of the Japanese culture. So I read everything I could on the subject and had the help of Kayoko Morton, a Japanese woman who is married to a Pueblo, Colo., doctor. She corrected errors. I had my characters drink tea from bowls. She told me the Japanese called them cups. And she showed me how Japanese women swept the floor, using damp, waded up newspaper to trap the dirt.
The book didn’t have a title. I called it “The Camp,” knowing we’d have to find something better. My editor came up with Tomi’s America, 1942, Tomi being the 12-year-old girl. I found that intriguing, but it sounded like a nonfiction book. Finally, in a brainstorming session with Sleeping Bear, my agent, and me, we decided on Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky, which is Tomi’s description of the flag. After all, this is a book about a love of country that transcends the ill-treatment that country sometimes inflicts on its people. —SD
Here’s how Sleeping Bear describes the book:
“Pop’s business was a strawberry farm, and one day, he pointed to the red berries, the white clouds, and the blue sky. He told me those were the colors of the American flag, the flag we raised in our front yard every morning. It was the flag of his country—and mine.”
For twelve-year-old Tomi Itano, home is her family’s strawberry farm in California. Although her parents came from Japan and her grandparents still live there, Tomi doesn’t speak Japanese. She’s an American through and through. But everything changes after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Now “No Japs Allowed” signs hang in store windows, Tomi’s family is ostracized, and even their friends and neighbors eye them suspiciously. Then Tomi’s father is taken away, suspected of being a spy, and Tomi, her mother, and her brothers are sent to an internment camp in Colorado. Just because they are Japanese.
Tomi becomes bitter, wondering how the government could treat her and her family like the enemy. What does she need to do to prove that America is her country, too?
Sandra Dallas shines a light on a dark period of American history in this moving story of a young girl overcoming the prejudices and suspicions of World War II while finding hope in the unlikeliest of places.
Bride’s House Tours
The Bride’s House in Georgetown, Colo., the setting of Sandra’s book The Bride’s House, will be open to the public two days in July and August for tours.
July 26, Saturday:
August 9, Saturday:
Fallen Women is one of three finalists for the 2014 Colorado Book Award, mystery genre fiction category. The award, sponsored by Colorado Humanities and Center for the Book, will be announced at a ceremony in Aspen on June 13. Three of Sandra’s books, Alice’s Tulips, Prayers for Sale, and The Bride’s House were finalists in the Colorado Book Awards’ literary category.
I quilted when my girls were small, and I was considered pretty good. But that was because nobody else quilted. As interest in quilting grew, it became apparent that my skills were marginal. So I was skeptical when Cindy Harp, who is in charge of the RMQM’s quilt for The Persian Pickle Club film asked me to make a block. Several quilt groups are piecing and quilting for the film. The RMQM was asked to make a Key West Beauty quilt.
The design looked too complicated for me, and I demurred. How embarrassing if anybody knew I had made that awful square whose corners were half-an-inch off! But Cindy insisted. She said it would take less time to make the square than it would to drive to her house. There was a snowstorm the night before, and I considered cancelling. But I knew that would just put off the inevitable.
Cindy is an extraordinary quilter, a professional, who turns out bed covers, wall hangings, and is finishing quilts for survivors of Colorado floods. She is also a pretty good teacher and mentor.
When I arrived, she had everything laid out, the sewing machine threaded. (It threads automatically; you don’t have to lick the thread and stick it through the eye of the needle. Isn’t that cool!) We would be paper-piecing, she announced, while I thought what in the world is that? Cindy showed me how to place the quilt scraps on a paper pattern she’d made, then stitch the seams on her machine. The first seam was flawless. I was stunned. So was the second. Maybe I was a quilter after all. But I screwed up on the third—so much for hubris—and Cindy handed me a seam-ripper to take out the stitches. The quilt square was finished in about 15 minutes. I turned it over, and it was perfect. Well, the center points are about 1/64th of an inch off, but you’d have to use a magnifying glass to see it. I decided not to redo it, since we quilters know that only God is perfect. -SD
Reveille in Washington, 1860-1865. By Margaret Leech. New York Review Books.
Reveille in Washington was first published in 1941, and its author, Margaret Leech won a Pulitzer Prize for it. She was the first woman to win a Pulitzer and one of only two persons to win it twice. Books on history back then tended to be narratives instead of heavily footnoted scholarly works. That this story of Washington, D.C., during the Civil War reads like a novel is no surprise. Leech was not just an historian and biographer, she was a novelist, and she was also a member of the famed New York circle of wits known as the Algonquin Round Table.
Leech describes the sights and sounds of Washington set against the background of the war. This is not a Civil War history on its own but rather a story of what went on in Washington during that time period. She has all the players we’ve come to know—the feuding cabinet, the incompetent generals, the southern sympathizers, and of course the Lincolns. Her portrayal of Lincoln is especially interesting, because she is not infatuated with the President. Most Civil War biographies are hagiographies when it comes to Lincoln, but Leech shows the President’s faults and mistakes. All that makes for a superb book that, except for a few politically incorrect observations about African Americans, has held up over the decades. -SD