Author Cynthia Kadohata won the Newbery medal for her first novel for children, Kira-Kira. Bookshelf caught up with her for the release of her second children's novel, Weedflower (Atheneum).
Had you already begun writing Weedflower when you won the Newbery for Kira-Kira? Did winning the award have an influence on your writing?
Weedflower was already in the copyediting phase when I heard about the Newbery award, so it didn't really influence my writing of that book, but since then, I have become more aware of having an audience. It suddenly struck me that "Oh, people will actually be reviewing what I write."
What inspired you to write Weedflower?
I'd always wanted to write an [internment] "camp" book. It became more important to me as my father [who was interned during WWII] grew older. I wanted to make sure the book got written before he died, even though there was a good chance he wouldn't read it.
How much of the book was based on your father's experience?
None of it. He wouldn't tell me anything about his experiences at Poston [camp]. He didn't like talking about that period, but there were other things about his life as a farmer that I included in the book: for example, how families took baths.
What other sources did you use in doing research for your book?
At the time I was writing Weedflower, my friend Naomi Hirahara was writing a book about Japanese-American flower farmers. She knew quite a few elderly farmers and put me in touch with four or five of them who had been in camps during WWII. Some, like my father, were reluctant to talk about their experiences. I remember one man telling me, "They [camps] weren't so bad." Then he began crying. That contradiction between his words and his demeanor told me a lot.
How did you find out about the relationships between Native Americans and Japanese Americans at relocation centers on Native American land?
In the middle of writing the book, I found a California state Web site that provided oral histories of Japanese-Americans. Until then, I didn't' realize how much resentment there was between Japanese-Americans and Native Americans in camps. Native Americans viewed the Japanese-Americans as being "wasteful" and having an "abundance." Japanese-Americans were resentful that so much had been taken away from them.
Did you make many changes as you wrote the book?
Yes, actually, my editor made me rewrite the book seven times. During one of the rewrites, I was in Kazakhstan, going through the process of adopting my son. The sense of dislocation I felt there had a definite impact on the book.
What do you hope readers will gain from Weedflower?
I guess I hope for kids to understand the history of what happened to people at camps during the War. For adults, I hope the book is a reminder that [unjust internment] happened and perhaps is still happening today.