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Doing My Part

Doing My Part

What made you decide to write a children's book?
Knowing I was thinking about how to adapt my grandmother's story (she was a Mexican immigrant), a writer friend suggested I read a book called Esperanza Rising. I was enchanted by the story and I started to wonder if I could write my own historical novel for kids. A few weeks later, I was asked to speak to a fifth grade class about writing and World War II. I was so impressed with their interest in that time period and with their desire to learn more, but also dismayed to realize there wasn't much World War II literature out there for children. I immediately thought of a woman I had interviewed for Dancing in Combat Boots. Her story never made it into that collection because I decided to stay focused on older women, but I'd never stopped thinking her story was compelling. I realized it would actually make a great children's book, so I started writing.

How long did it take you to write Doing My Part?
Doing My Part was a rare blessing, a story that told itself. Unlike my previous books, which took years to write, I wrote a complete first draft of Doing My Part in a five month period. Within a year and a half of coming up with the idea, the story was on the shelves. I won't say writing Doing My Part was necessarily easier than writing my other two books, but it definitely seemed to come from someplace deep within and, of course, it helped immensely to have Shirley's story to build upon.

How much of Doing My Part is true?
Unlike my other two books, I took a little more license with Doing My Part. I felt I needed to in order to build upon these great anecdotes Shirley had told me and I also knew I needed the freedom to be able to create a character with a rich internal life, which meant putting a little distance between the character, Helen, and her inspiration, Shirley. But most of the events and details in the book are based on things Shirley told me and on information I gleaned during my research trip to the Illinois Valley where Shirley grew up.

Is Westclox still there?
The Westclox factory building is still standing. It was a thrill to walk beside it. It's an amazing old building and still looks much the way it does on the cover of Doing My Part. It's mostly abandoned now, although there a few shops in part of the factory. But the building itself still seems to breathe. It hasn't yet given up its ghosts.

Where will the Home-Front Heroes stories go from here?
Helen Marshall is only the first of the Home-Front Heroes. The next book will take place in a Japanese internment camp in California. Three more books will round out the series. One will involve a 12-year-old Mexican-American boy growing up in San Antonio. Another will chronicle the friendship between a Jewish girl in New York and an English boy who has been sent to America for safe-keeping. The last will deal with an African-American girl in the segregated south. Each of those books are based on stories told to me while researching Dancing in Combat Boots.

What do you hope kids will take away from the Home-Front Heroes collection?
I hope they will learn and appreciate how important kids were to the war effort. Unlike many wars in our history, World War II asked for something from every citizen. Everyone from the president on down was calling out to children to participate in scrap drives and war bond drives, to spot enemy air planes, to draw the black-out curtains, to help their neighbors. Kids were a vital and appreciated part of the war effort. Kids can make a difference.