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Red Berries

Volume IX, Issue Two | June 2014

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:

The Bride’s House will be part of Historic Georgetown’s multi-house tour. For details and tickets, call Historic Georgetown, 303-569-2840.

August 9, Saturday:

Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum will host a tea at the Bride’s House. For details and tickets, call RMQM, 303-215-9001.