Today we're fortunate to have debut middle grade author Kathleen Burkinshaw with us to discuss how she brings historical fiction to the modern classroom. Enjoy!
The first time my mother agreed that I could discuss her experience in Hiroshima on August 6th was for my daughter’s seventh grade class. She believed that stories from survivors needed to be remembered, not for blame, but so the events were not repeated. My mother also knew that these future voters were around the same age that she had been (12-years-old) when she witnessed the first atomic bombing. She hoped that they could relate to her story when they looked around the classroom and imagined losing almost all their classmates in one day.
During my school visits, I take it a step further by bringing WWII Japan to them. I discuss what was happening in Japan leading up to August 6th and the beliefs of the citizens during that time. Also, I explain what my mother’s family life was like, because throughout her first 12 years, war had been a part of every day. I display pictures of my mother’s family, her home, and a map of where she was that day.
In my second year of class presentations, I was still writing THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM manuscript (first of many, many, many drafts) so instead of just speaking to them about her ordeal, I read the section of my manuscript that described that day when her world became a shadow of what it had once been. I wrote the novel in first person so that the reader (or in this case the listener) can picture the events as they unfold. No matter how many times I may read those paragraphs to the students, I always get emotional at the same section. I can still hear my mother explaining what happened and the tears in her eyes several decades later-as if it was just happening all over again.
My hope is that by giving the students information on a culture during a time where their only knowledge might be from a couple paragraphs in a text book- they may learn that there is more to people than we think. We should try not to make judgements unless we know the whole picture. It can spark empathy for that 12-year-old girl, and others like my mom and her family on August 6th. It might humanize this country for them. Even though her country was an Axis power during WWII, readers realize that this 12-year-old girl, loved her family, enjoyed her time with friends, feared what might happen to all of that in the war and dreamed of peace. And when the dust settled she still could find traces of hope. She isn’t that different from the Allied children after all.
My mom wished that by hearing her story, the students would realize that nuclear weapons should never be used again. Because each person under those famous mushroom clouds that day was someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, or child. Unfortunately, today, we still need to hear this message, maybe more than we ever have.
Kathleen Burkinshaw resides in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom to a daughter in college (dreading the reality of being an empty nester-most of the time), and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja. Kathleen enjoyed a 10+ year career in HealthCare Management unfortunately cut short by the onset of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Writing gives her an outlet for her daily struggle with chronic pain. She has carried her mother’s story her whole life and feels privileged to now share it with the world. Writing historical fiction also satisfies her obsessive love of researching anything and everything.