Newbery Medal and National Book Award-winning author Cynthia Kadohata visited Arroyo Seco Junior High School Monday to speak with students about her recent novel and to share insights into her writing process.
More than 150 seventh- and eighth-grade students attended the author’s presentation, which was provided to the school through the Once Upon a Time Bookstore located in Montrose.
“Maureen Palacios is the owner and she offers author visits to the schools free of charge,” Arroyo Seco Librarian Sarah Goodwin said. “It’s a chance for kids to meet the author and purchase books.”
Some students attended the discussion during their English class time and others missed a class period to hear Kadohata speak.
“They were very excited,” Goodwin said.
Kadohata, a Japanese American young adult writer, is best known for her novel “Kira-Kira,” which was published in 2004 and won a Newbery Medal in 2005. As she writes her various novels, Kadohata relies on both her own experiences and historical events to tell her stories.
“My real life and writing life are all mixed up together,” Kadohata told the room full of students. “Usually, I write about things I’ve been through or I do a lot of research so it’s like I lived through it.”
For example, her novel “Weedflower” included elements of her father’s own experience living in Japanese Internment Camps and serving in the Vietnam War, and her novel “Kira-Kira” included aspects of her own life living in a small southern town with a father who worked 100 hours each week.
“I wanted to write about the world I had known,” Kadohata said.
Kadohata’s most recently published novel, “Checked,” follows the story of her own son, Sammy, who currently plays elite hockey.
The book also details Kadohata’s own experience owning a Doberman with cancer and her friend’s experience evacuating from Canyon Country during the Sand Fire.
“While you’re working really hard in your sport you have things happening in your personal life,” Kadohata said. “That’s what the book is about, is sorting out prioritizes and making hard choices.”
Other novels like “Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam” and “The Things About Luck,” a 2013 National Book Award winner, follow the true-life story of other subjects who Kadohata studied and interviewed.
As she creates new stories and writes new novels, Kadohata said she always ensures that she immerses herself in the topic she is writing about, whether that means visiting corn fields in Kansas or petting an elephant at a sanctuary.
“In one way or another, you have to fully understand the topic you’re writing about,” she said.
As Kadohata shared the lengthy process of writing and the struggles of editing, teachers at Arroyo Seco hope students learned what a career as a novelist looks like.
“I hope they understand that writing is not, ‘one and done,'” Goodwin said. “It takes time, research and practice.”
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